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Environmental Injustice in China’s Industrialized Rural Areas: Observations from Juancheng County and their National Context


China’s rural areas are increasingly becoming the operating sites of factories and small-scale industry, which employ parts of the population, give rise to a new social class of “rural-industrialists” and contaminate the environmental and agricultural systems in all-pervasive ways. The rise of the rural industrialists has meant that a handful of factory owners in a given township become wealthy by exploiting the cheap labor and minimal environmental restrictions of the countryside, and live luxurious modern lifestyles in the midst of rural poverty. These factory or business owners are often the newly rich, who have only gained their status in the recent decades and still have family and friendships ties in the townships, meaning that they are responsible for the heavy polluting of the environment that their own family members live in. This paper is a gathering of observations from my visit to Juancheng county, located in Shandong province in northeastern China. Past studies on rural industrialization in China are used to put my observations in historical and national context. Suggestions from other scholars and journalists on how to deal with the environmental and health impacts of rural industrialization are discussed. However, most of these suggestions deal primarily with economic incentive targeted at polluters for the sake of environmental protection. More emphasis should be placed on the health of the rural people who often work in both factories and farms, and these people’s rights to organize against government corruption. Furthermore, increasing factory owner and rural people’s access to education on ecological relationships, environmental well-being and public health, would be a meaningful step toward combating the government’s sole emphasis on economic growth, and shifting focus toward creating a more sustainable rural society.

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