Research Papers: environmentalism

Environmentalism with Chinese Characteristics? Urban River Revitalization in Foshan

By Eric Heikkila

Planning Theory & Practice


Human settlements have long been located on rivers, and the relationship of the place to the river functions as a deep reflection of its historical, cultural, and socio-economic traditions. This paper explores urban river revitalization in contemporary China, focusing particularly on ongoing efforts to clean up Foshan’s polluted Fenjiang River. The research shows that the traditional cultural status of the waterway, which is known as the “Mother River” of Foshan, plays a paradoxically pivotal role in the project to modernize it. Interacting in complex ways with domestic and international political concerns, and popular media and internet technologies, the cultural status of the river has helped to determine both the type of environmental movement that has emerged in its defence, and the community of interests that serves as a proxy for civil society in that movement. Ultimately, this paper argues that the unique configuration of institutions and actors engaged in the Fenjiang River restoration project are emblematic of a new type of “environmentalism with Chinese characteristics.”

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