China’s green transition is often perceived as a lesson in authoritarian efficiency. In just a few years, the state managed to improve air quality, contain dissent and restructure local industry. Much of this was achieved through top-down, ‘blunt force’ solutions, such as forcibly shuttering or destroying polluting factories. This book argues that China’s blunt force regulation is actually a sign of weak state capacity and ineffective bureaucratic control. Integrating case studies with quantitative evidence, it shows how widespread industry shutdowns are used, not to scare polluters into respecting pollution standards, but to scare bureaucrats into respecting central orders. These measures have improved air quality in almost all Chinese cities, but at immense social and economic cost. This book delves into the negotiations, trade-offs and day-to-day battles of local pollution enforcement to explain why governments employ such costly measures, and what this reveals about a state’s powers to govern society.
Discussant: Iza Ding (author of The Performative State)
Speaker: Denise van der Kamp is an Associate Professor at Oxford University’s School of Global and Area Studies. Her research explores issues in developmental politics and environmental governance, with a focus on China. In particular, she examines strategies for implementing policies in contexts where both rule of law and civil society are weak. Denise received her PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley, and was previously an Assistant Professor at City University of Hong Kong.