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This book examines how the news media in general, and investigative journalism in particular, interprets environmental problems and how those interpretations contribute to the shaping of a discourse of risk that can compete against the omnipresent and hegemonic discourse of modernisation in Chinese society.




China faces enormous environmental problems after having gone down the road of modernisation for decades. Modernisation has become a pervasive hegemonic discourse through the process of economic reform in this country. It is everywhere, penetrating into every pore of Chinese society. Naturally, it has become an integral part of China and an everyday term appearing in officials’ speeches, the news media, daily conversations and school textbooks. Everyone seems to have accepted it, has praised it and is living by it. Modernisation has become taken for granted among the Chinese people: modernisation is what we should strive for. If the goal of modernisation were to be taken away, we would feel a loss and see our lives as hollow. In Gramscian terms (Gramsci 1971), the existence of hegemony depends on whether or not the ruled can naturally accept the rule of the ruler. This is the origin of power. At this point, modernisation has become a hegemonic power, convincing all Chinese people to accept its rule. It has also become a grand narrative that is accepted as an ultimate goal, one that cannot be questioned, doubted or opposed, and with which no other discourse can compete. This is a driving force, a guideline and a supreme ideology for the development and future of China.

Jingrong Tong

1. Modernisation, Environmental Problems and Chinese Society

This chapter maps the relationship between the emergence of environmental problems and China’s modernisation. It also discusses the responses of various parties — the state, transnational and national businesses, society — to these issues. It suggests that the importance of the emergence of environmental issues should be understood in the light of their relationship to society, taking into account the potency of social dynamics, especially the interaction between global capitalism and domestic power relations, the development of civil participation, social class differentiation, as well as consumer culture and lifestyles, and of the social logic regarding the relationship between development and the environment.

Jingrong Tong

2. Twenty Years of Environmental Investigative Reporting: Agendas, Social Interests and Voices

Over the past 20 years, environmental problems have developed into a major topic for investigative journalism. This development was against the backdrop of continuing economic modernisation and generally emerging environmental problems and movements. During this period, China has experienced four "five-year plans" (wunianjihua)1 and three generations of leadership. Meanwhile, state capitalism has been systematically established, expanded rapidly and spread from the centre (the eastern and southern coastal cities) to the peripheries (the western, northern and middle inland areas). An inflow of global capital into China has been observed in all sorts of areas, ranging from manufacturing and agriculture to mining. As a result, Chinese society has undergone a dramatic transformation, one aspect of which is the forming of social groups that have their respective interests and distinct value systems. These value systems, diverging from the main values promoted by the Party-state, underlie increasingly active citizen participation and lobbying to change government policies and decision-making on environmental issues.

Jingrong Tong

3. The Discourse of Risk: Environmental Problems and Environmentalism in Chinese Press Investigative Reports

The previous chapter discussed the development of environmental investigative journalism over the 20-year period from the 1990s to the present and analysed the construction of nine agendas of environmental problems in the process and its implications for understanding the role of investigative journalism in mediating the rift between modernisation and the environment. Following the previous chapter, this chapter1 takes the discussion further and offers a detailed account of the discourse of environmental problems as constructed in Chinese newspaper investigative reports. Discourse analysis2 and framing analysis3 of investigative reports on environmental issues in selected Chinese newspapers from 2008–2011 will underpin this account.

Jingrong Tong

4. Environmental Investigative Journalists and Their Work

The previous chapter has discussed in detail the main features of the two environmental risk discourses identified in the coverage of investigative reports. A close link among environmental problems, economic activities and the failure of governance as well as between social and environmental inequalities characterises the two discourses, embodies prominent Marxist environmentalism and constructs an antagonism against state capitalism, the capitalist production mode and modernisation. Accounting for these features is how environmental investigative reporters report on environmental problems, which is the focus of this chapter.

Jingrong Tong

5. Offline Investigative Journalism and Online Environmental Crusades

The current century is a time of online environmental crusades. China’s online public space is filled with citizen-initiated environmental discussions and groups, as facilitated by the wide spread and application of the Internet, its associated Web 2.0 tools and other ICT devices. In particular, visual images and texts that can evoke strong emotions among Internet users, such as images of polluted rivers, dead finless porpoises, dense smog, the striking appeals of residents of “cancer villages” for survival and salvation, and reflections on the construction of the Three Gorges Dam are widely circulated online. These first-hand accounts of the damage to the environment from human activity and ordinary people’s suffering are detailed, sensational, packed with personal experiences and feelings. They create a space in which the wider public can see what is happening to the environment in distant places as well as the potential risks posed to the whole nation by human activity locally and over greater geographical distances. The capacity to have the public bear witness to environmental destruction and make them aware of environmental problems and risks can resonate among the public and even trigger outrage. The emergence of online environmental crusades on the one hand forges a civil critical voice that opposes governments over the national priority for economic growth and, on the other, demonstrates that it is no longer solely down to investigative journalism to reveal environmental problems and mobilise the public. These two aspects thus pose questions for investigative journalism and its role.

Jingrong Tong

6. Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony: Investigative Journalism between Modernisation and Environmental Problems

Modernisation, a hegemonic ideology in Chinese society, justifies the state’s policies for development. It has become a paramount guideline that is even beyond the control of the state. The state has already realised the threat environmental risks pose to its rule and thus attempted to promote an ecological modernisation (Zhang, Mol et al. 2007; Huan 2007; Lia and Langa 2010; Mol 2006; Yee, Lo et al. 2013). In spite of that, the state cannot resist the lure of modernisation, spurred by its endless desire for development. As modernisation has become an effective disguise for ruling interest groups to make profits for their own sakes (Liu 2007), the state, under the strong influence of the representatives of these ruling interest groups (Cai 2014), is unlikely to slow down the pace of modernisation for the benefit of the environment. Environmental problems in fact result from the headlong pursuit of profits by these groups, enabled by state capitalism (Liu 2007). Therefore the hegemony of modernisation by its very nature is the hegemony of state capitalism and of interest groups rather than the hegemony of the state.

Jingrong Tong


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