A beacon of hope for a troubled Earth? A critical analysis of China’s authoritarian approach to constructing ‘ecological civilization’

Evelyn Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


The urgency of the ecological situation in the age of the Anthropocene has led to a call for concerted efforts across the globe. Disappointed at the liberal democracies’ environmental inaction, as evidenced in the political gridlock after attempts to compromise capitalists’ interests in overexploiting natural resources, or to limit individual freedom in engaging unsustainable behaviour, environmentalists are turning to more decisive state actions in combating environmental problems. In this field, arguably, China’s authoritarian approach to constructing ecological civilization is viewed as a beacon of hope by some environmental commentators. This article, after exploring the concepts of environmental authoritarianism and ecological civilization, demonstrates how the state-driven top-down construction of ecological civilization, exemplified by campaign-style enforcement and coercive enforcement, does not only fail to resolve ‘the tragedy of the commons’, but also results in ‘the tragedy of the ordinaries’. It further discusses implications for China’s construction of ecological civilization beyond the borders of China. The conclusion is reached that caution is demanded when using such a state-led authoritarian approach to addressing environmental problems on this troubled earth.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-131
JournalAsia Pacific Journal of Environmental Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes
EventToronto Conference on Earth System Governance - Toronto, Toronto, Canada
Duration: 20 Oct 202224 Oct 2022

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