The Changing Landscape of Environmental Activism in China



Professor of Communication and Sociology

Project Summary

This summer I had to opportunity to work with Professor Yang in the Sociology Department on the degree media coverage on pollution in China and its impacts on society. I was first drawn to this project because its relevance with my home country, Vietnam, as well as my interest in China as a Chinese-speaking student. Both Vietnam and China have for a while suffered heavy environmental pollution due to increasing industrial developments. And thus, I believe that this PURM project will allow me to not only understand the power of the media in China, but also ponder upon the correlation with that of my home country. My work involved finding and reading journal articles and books on the topics, and putting together an annotated bibliography that I hope will be of great help for Professor Yang’s future research.  

From this research project, I was able to learn that Chinese media coverage on environmental degradation and pollution is rather scarce and/or ambiguous, as Chinese media outlets tend to focus on the positive aspects like suggestions/improvements or government action plans, rather than the negative impacts of pollution on society. Results show that the Chinese government has been careful with environmental discourses, due to a fear of growing resistance movements against the current regime. This is the case due to a very top-down structure of the government, where only a few men hold real power to decide on matters of the country, in contrast to a more bottom-up structure where greater freedom of expression and democracy is allowed, for example the United States. Many journalists from my research also compared media coverage in China with that the United States in order to show their stark differences, with Chinese media outlets focusing more on positive ways to improve pollution and U.S media outlets focusing on the causes and consequences of pollution.

While at first my goal was to learn specifically about media coverage about environmental pollution in China, through in-depth research on this topic, I also learnt many things about the role of the government in media coverage and the correlation between a country’s government structure and its media coverage of environmental pollution. Furthermore, this PURM research project has allowed to discover at greater length China from a different angle. This project has also allowed me to utilize and practice my Chinese language skills to research Chinese article on the subject matter, where I am required to read and understand an advanced topic in a foreign language. Even though my majors are not along the line of this project, nevertheless, participating PURM has allowed to gain a wealth of knowledge and research skills important for my career path in the future.

The Changing Landscape of Environmental Activism in China