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Environmental Protection in the People's Republic of China

by Eckehard Koch

About a decade ago, the People's Republic of China began to strive towards catching up with the industrialized world. It opened its doors wide to Western science and technology, Western imports and ideas and, internally too, introduced a number of reforms of MaoTseTung's system. Mao had restricted industrial and technological development. To a great extent, his attitude towards intellectuals, science and technology, as well as towards industrialization and urbanization. varied from criticism to rejection.

After Mao's death in 1976, the industrialization and modernization of China, which had been »delayed« up to then, was propagated as the great goal. Four types of modernization were regarded as paramount: agricultural, industrial, research, and defence. Surprisingly, as early as two years after the formulation of these ambitious modernization plans, an environmental protection law (1979) was passed, whose main aims, according to the account published in the Peking People's Daily, were to strengthen the socialist legal system, to eliminate environmental pollution, to preserve national health, and to promote socialist modernization. Man's natural environment, it went on, was the basis of human survival, and so environmental protection was essential for China's socialist modernization.

Environmental protection: a Chinese tradition

It must not be forgotten that environmental protection is a Chinese tradition with thousands of years of history. The idea of recycling, fittingly described in Chinese as the "conversion of harm into good", has been a fundamental principle from time immemorial. Waste was always regarded as valuable, and the aim was to reintroduce as much waste as possible into the industrial or natural cycle.
In the surprisingly effective ancient Chinese agricultural system, this principle found its expression in the comprehensive utilization ("transforming into useful things") of organ) c waste residues, in the rural utilization of faeces and dung-water as fertilizer, or fish farming with the help of waste, etc. The principle can also be seen in the massive reforestations during the Chow dynasty (1127- c.255 BC) and, even today, Chinese legislation concerning environmental protection is based on this principle.
The environmental problems that have to be dealt with in China are immense, and one reason for its striving for industrialization may be that the Chinese leadership is trying to earn the wherewithal for environmental restoration and the solution of the problems at hand.
The 1972 UNO Environment Conference in Stockholm, attended by Chinese representatives, provide the stimulus for the modern development of environmental protection in China. In 1973/74, roughly at the same time as its West German counterpart, an Environmental Protection Office was created with power at the highest political level, that State Council. Its tasks included the coordination of legislation, and a. ministration and research in the field of environmental protection Similar offices were also set up at lower level in provinces and town In 1982 a Ministry of Environment Protection was created, which also assumed responsibility for town are village construction. Nevertheless the provinces and towns have a considerable amount of freedom in the execution of measures towards the protection and improvement of the environment.

Forest protection

Ruthless exploitation of the fore was and remains one of the ma Chinese problems. The modern National Forestry Law of 1979 followed other laws of 1915, 1932, 1953 and 1963. In 1949, only eight per cent the country was covered by forest. 1954, after plans had been worked out for the planting of forest belts north-eastern China in 1951, the planting of a forest belt (the »Great Green Wall«) was begun in north western China to protect against so erosion by the wind and to provide sand-fixing. Today, forests make up 12.7% of the total land area in China. In 1983 alone, 6.3 million hectares were forested. The reforestation programme of the People's Republic of China is the largest in the world.
Ever since 1981, every Chinese citizen between the ages of 11 and 60 (men) or 55 (women), apart from the physically handicapped, is obliged to plant between three and five trees per year. Sources of problems are the confused question of administrative responsibility and the energy shortage in rural areas, which often leads to tree felling as a way of obtaining fuel, apart from the act that, in the 1960s and 1970s with heir constantly increasing population especially, whole forests were often felled in favor of the establishment of fields.

Soil and water protection

In China, the agricultural crop area is steadily decreasing. Since 957, 11% of land under crop has been lost as a result of erosion, desertification, abuse and overuse, alkalization, hardening and non-agrarian development, even though land under crop only makes up about 11 % of the total land area of the People's Republic. In certain areas, yields were reduced by 80% due to oversalting of the soil. In 1978, a sixth of the total land area was affected by soil erosion and a fifth of the total usable grassland by becoming covered with sand, by alkalization and by deterioration.
This soil destruction is accompanied by massive water pollution. According to recent figures, China's fourteen largest rivers are all poisoned. Of 78 rivers examined, 54 are polluted. This is due to the effluent from towns and all kinds of industrial firms, including those in rural areas. Most of this effluent is hardly treated, if at all. Additional pollutants are nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides. In China, almost half of the crop acreage is artificially irrigated. Water polluted by heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, by nitrates, cyanides, and mercury, among others, destroys crops. Alternatively, if it is used for irrigation, it damages the crop indirectly, and thus represents at least a health hazard. Nor should one forget that sewers and sewage treatment in the cities are often very poor.
Traditional recycling becomes senseless as soon as the waste products to be reused are poisonous or not biodegradable. Apart from this, Chinese peasants often have to burn their straw because of fuel shortages, which means that the soil is deprived of valuable fertilizer, while at the same time mineral fertilizers place a further burden on it. Intensive use of water for irrigation purposes (80% of ground water consumption!) has led to water scarcity in every province. In the towns the water table often sinks as a result of this overuse.
Apart from preservation of the forests, preservation or reattainment of water quality enjoys priority in Chinese environmental protection. Hygienic standards for drinking water were published as early as 1959, but it was not until after 1979 that the attempt was made to tackle this problem seriously: through the issue of water quality standards, the passing of a decree halting production of DDT and other agricultural pesticides, emphasis on biological methods of prevention and control, improved erosion prevention, through the use of biogas plants (their number rose from a few hundred to 7 million between 1971 and 1980) to counteract the felIing of fuelwood, and increasing the number of sewage plants. The Suzhou and Huang-pu rivers, for example, from which Shanghai takes its drinking water, are to be restored to a state of cleanness by the beginning of the 1990s. One example of a successful plan for refuse disposal and water supply is provided by the city of Dalien, population 4.6 million. Faced with a population that is still on the increase and, above all, with continuing industrialization, it would only be possible to master the problems with large-scale organizational and financial resources, and so, for the time being, the future still looks bleak as regards a solution.

Clean air measures

Atmospheric pollution is a considerable problem in China's cities and can be attributed above all to the use of coal as fuel. Seventy percent of total Chinese energy production comes from coal. Roughly half of the coal used is consumed by private households in the urban areas; their ovens usually have only low thermal efficiency and, of course, have no or only inefficient dust filters, while most of the houses have low smoke stacks. The most common form of atmospheric pollution consists in suspended particle matter, which, in the North, contains a considerable admixture of natural dust. In Peking this can be as much as 60% in the summer, and 40% in the winter.
In most urban areas, sulphur dioxide is no longer a real environmental problem, while, in the winter especially, Chinese ambient air quality standards for suspended particle matter are hardly observed. The first air quality standards, definitive for industrial development, were issued in 1956, while 1979 saw the passing of emission and immission standards for a variety of air polluting factors. In 1982, parts of the immission standards were republished in a revised form which stipulated three categories for ambient air quality: conservation and tourist areas, residential and business areas, and urbanized and industrial areas. They are by and large comparable with West German standards, but unlike these are more specific in nature.
In spite of this more lenient character, companies that do not hold to these limits can be punished according to the polluter-pays principle, removed to a point outside the city limits, or in serious cases, forced to stop production. On the other hand, companies whose achievements and contributions in the field of environmental protection are outstanding are awarded bonuses. The same applies to companies employing »recycling« of the traditional type, such as was promoted by Mao especially; that is, the further use or reuse of exhaust gases, waste water and waste residues. Recycling and multipurpose utilization play a major role in research, too.
As the Chinese leadership has recognized that industrial development will involve further air pollution if no preventive measures are taken, it is now paying greater attention to these problems. There are a number of technically simple measures involving a minimum of costs, such as coal processing to reduce ash and sulphur content, dust collection and coal briquets with a sulphur-fixing binder to reduce dust and sulphur emission. Further measures that could be successful would be the provision of parks in urban areas, the relocation of industrial plants, the use of gas and central heating, and a general improvement in the technology used and in management.
The People's Republic of China is in a cleft stick - caught between intentionally forced industrial development and massive environmental pollution which can hardly be con trolled. Progressive legislation to protect the environment is face' with the limits and constraints of »realities« brought about by the complexity of development of the state. Opinions about practical environmental protection in China; thus range from the euphorically positive through to the extreme negative. And even in China, the environment protection law is dismissed now and then as pure propaganda. Several visitors to China returned home with the view that the Chinese were the first to truly al tempt to put the unity of ecology an' economy into practice, and were c the opinion that something could by learned from their attitude in both East and West. Others, in contrast accuse the Chinese of pressing of regardless with their modernization at the environment's expense, c see them more or less foundering of the problems. Only the future can tell what scars the »Second Long March« of the Chinese - towards modernization - will leave on the environment in the long run.


Fahrenhorst, B., Hoppe, T., Albrecht, D.: Umweltpolitik und Landnutzungeprobleme in der Volksrepublik China und Ländern der Dritten Welt.- Landschaftsentwicklung und Umweltforschung: Schriftenreihe des Fachbereiches Landschaftsentwicklung der TU Berlin No. 21. Berlin 1984.
Koch, E.: Begegnung eines Altkulturvolkes mit abendländischer Zivilisation und Technologie-dargestellt am Beispiel der Umweitpolitik in China. In: H.-J. Elster (ed.): Einflüsse der Zivilisation auf die Psyche des Menschen. Schriften der Gesellschaft fur Verantwortung in der Wissenschaft No. 4. Stuttgart 1986.
Prinz, B., Koch, E.: Umweltpolitik und technologische Entwicklung in der Volksrepublik China - LlS-Berichte No. 16. Landesanstalt fur Immissionsschutz des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen. Essen 1984.
Zhao, D., Sun, B.: Atmospheric Pollution from Coal Combustion in China. JAPCA 36. 1986, 371-374.

Stove Builders Meet in Nepal

In the second half of June this year, a regional training workshop on techniques of monitoring improved stove development programmes was held in Kathmandu, Nepal. The event was financed by the Royal Kingdom of Nepal, the Netherlands and the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. In this article Jurgen Usinger, Technical Manager of the GTZ Domestic Energy Saving Project in Peshawar, Pakistan, reports on the workshop.

The main objectives of the workshop were to introduce monitoring techniques, as well as to provide practical experience and assistance in the field. Further aims were to promote an exchange of ideas, to establish a forum for further regional cooperation, and to help master the complex problem of dissemination.
During the workshop, monitoring instruments for each part of a stove project were developed. To provide adequate tools for social scientists, foresters, technicians, and the like, questionnaires were developed for baseline surveys, for the monitoring of production, and for monitoring the acceptability and adoption of stoves. These questionnaires were later tested in the field. The programme included field trips to rural areas where improved stoves had been introduced, as well as visits to stove manufacturers.
Technical discussions resulted in the conclusion that there was no such thing as a stove model that was adaptable to conditions in each of the member countries. While mud and ceramic stoves were used in most of these countries, certain countries used stoves of metal or a combination of metal and ceramics. During discussions, various opinions were expressed on the question of how far one should go in the design of appropriate stoves. Needs of consumers often seemed to run counter to the aim of saving wood. Given that stove programmes are programmes that concern women, one group wanted to see women given a central role in these efforts to improve their social status.
The general feeling at the end of the workshop was that the exchange of ideas between member countries had been one of the greatest benefits. Participants stressed the need for an annual regional workshop as a forum for better regional cooperation and communication in the field of improved stove programmes.