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Environmental Degradation in Heilongjiang: Policy Reform and Agrarian Dynamics in China's New Hybrid Economy

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This paper analyzes environmental degradation in rural China as structurally embedded in China's rapid economic growth in the post-Mao era. The theoretical discussion focuses on changes in the organization of production, resource use, and regional development. A critical assessment of the Chinese hybrid economy challenges standard views of the reforms. The overall environmental problems of state socialist agriculture in China have been aggravated following the agrarian reforms of the current regime. Rather than mitigating negative trends, marketization and privatization have brought new, qualitatively different, environmental problems. Resource decline and its attendant social problems are not limited to aspects of transitional economy but are a fundamental part of the new hybrid system. I offer an alternative explanation for interpreting increases in rural productivity as an appropriation and use of collective assets, suggesting that the mining of communal capital is hidden behind the economic growth of the rural economy. Case studies in Heilongjiang Province based on long-term field data provide a profile of three aspects: intensification of land use, agroindustrial pollution, and declining social/communal capital. Further, the political legitimacy of the state is gradually eroded by mutually exclusive fiscal constraints on expenditure and political commitments to peasant producers. Recent repression of political dissent by peasants in hinterland regions forces indirect forms of resistance to state policy. Opportunities for sustainable development are nonetheless present within China, providing that policy makers attempt to address the structural conditions of the rural sector.>
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Keywords: China; Heilongjiang; agriculture; environment; market socialism; peasants; political ecology; rural reforms

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of California, Los Angeles

Publication date: 1997-12-01

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