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What he said instead was, “We, the citizens of Datong, are honored to be able to contribute to the welfare of our nation.” In those days, the air pollution in Datong was hellacious. Wherever you went, it smelled of smoke, your eyes watered, and your throat became sore. In the winter, when the temperature on the ground was lower than in the air, this thermal inversion would trap the smoke just above ground level. Sometimes I
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would go to neighboring villages, and when I returned to Datong, it looked like the city was capped with a black dome of air pollution.
Coal at the time was used for fuel in every home in Datong for both cooking and heating. Presumably, the No. 2 Power Plant had at least a smoke treatment system of some sort, but the city nonetheless became a symbol of China’s air pollution problems, no doubt contributing significantly to the mixed feelings Datong residents have toward Beijing.
This past winter, news reports of extreme air pollution levels in cities around China alarmed many Japanese residents, who feared that the pollutants would eventually reach Japan’s shores. An outbreak of avian flu in China at the same time further added to the impression that everything undesirable came from China.
The truth of the matter, though, is that air quality in Datong has improved dramatically over the past several years. Perhaps the single biggest factor has been that the fueled burned in Datong has switched from coal to natural gas.
Many also credit Datong’s sister-city, Omuta in Fukuoka, Japan, for its cooperation in addressing environmental issues. Looking over my most recent photos of Datong following my return to Japan, I was surprised to see how blue the sky appeared. That said, the pollution in other major cities of Shanxi appears to be growing worse.
Hills Lined with Wind Turbines
There is an old saying that the wind in Datong blows but “once a year”— starting in the spring and lasting continuously until winter. What is more, it blows in the same direction—the northwest—so Datong is an ideal location for wind turbines. Given this region’s long history with coal-fired power plants, though, I had never imagined that wind power would take hold.
But things change. The city of Datong comprises four districts and seven counties, many of which are bounded by mountains. And starting around 2010, they began building wind turbines on nearly any and every hill they could find.
It was around this same time that China zoomed past the United States as the world’s largest producer of wind power, and I suspect that they did it by building wind turbines all around the country.
Rarely are there villages or farmhouses among these mountains, meaning that low-frequency wind turbine noise and other problematic side effects are not an issue there. The other side of the coin is that there are few existing roads available for construction and maintenance. But obviously, the China of today can find a way to overcome such hurdles and get things done.
Megawatt Solar Power
In 2012, with the opening of a new highway stretching from Datong to Lingqiu, travel time to Hunyuan was cut to less than an hour. Lingqiu, which took at least seven hours 20 years ago, was now a two-hour drive away.
In March 2013, I drove down Route S203 for the first time in years, and just as I reached the area where the salt damage is worst, I noticed that the fields to the east were shining. Stopping the car, I grabbed my camera and ran to see what it was. Sure enough, it was a field full of solar panels.
Reading a placard, I learned that this was the first part of a multiple-phase plan; for now, the facility covered
56.6 hectare and would produce 20 megawatts, or annual production of 26.78 million kilowatt hours. The project was being undertaken by GCL-Poly Energy Holdings at an investment of 220 million yuan. Once phase one of this project is operational, it would result in annual savings equivalent to 8,100 tons of coal and cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 22,108 tons, sulfur oxides by 168.4 tons, and nitrogen oxides by 57.1 tons. Given that the land is worthless for agricul
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ture and too soft to support the structures necessary for an industrial complex, it is ideally suited as a solar power station, especially if you consider that it gets little rainfall, and the sunlight is quite strong.
GCL-Poly has close ties with the military and is also active in trade and real estate. From its headquarters in Hong Kong, the company markets its solar panels not just in China but also in Vietnam and Singapore. How, though, did a panel manufacture become involved in the construction of a solar power station?
Apparently it hopes to build a polycrystalline silicon plant on the premises using power generated by the solar power station and then using the silicon produced there to build more solar panels, ultimately developing what it calls a “self-sustaining industrial model.” Plans have been drawn up through phase five, and now with Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group joining the project, the Datong solar plant could be producing 500 megawatts or more, which would make it the world’s largest solar power station.
In August 2013, Datong hosted Solar Decathlon China. This international competition was launched by the US Department of Energy and has been held five times at locales in the United States and Europe; this was the first time the event was held in Asia. Perhaps the time has come for this once smoke-infested inland city of Datong to emerge as China’s leader in renewable energy.
September 26, 2013 China’s Struggle for Civil Society A New Perspective on Social Development Junko Oikawa Although the Chinese government continues to resist democratic reforms, many civic groups are pushing the boundaries of citizen involvement. Junko Oikawa explores the significance of these developments for Chinese society and Japan-China relations.
C hina is changing rapidly at the societal level, and one crucial barometer of change is the relationship between civil society and the country’s one-party authoritarian government. In the face of unprecedented social and economic diversity, the government is struggling to reconcile competing interests. China today faces a host of mounting problems, from rising discontent of over evictions and seizure of land to problems relating to pollution, labor abuses, food safety, and ethnic unrest in the “autonomous” regions. With protests and dissident movements proliferating around the nation, maintaining social stability is clearly the number one challenge facing China’s leadership.
Despite the control that the government and the Communist Party of China continue to exert over society, increasing attention has focused on voluntary action by citizens and civic groups to advance individual rights or the welfare of the greater community. In the following I would like to explore the development of civil society in China, including the recent clampdown by authorities, as a lens through which Japan can gain new insights into Chinese society.
The Rise of Gongmin Shehui
Political scientist Yu Keping, deputy director of the CPC’s Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, has written extensively on civil society. As Yu explains it, the concept of civil society implies both “involvement by citizens in public issues” and “limitation of state power by the citizens.” Civil society is a sort of “community” located somewhere between the government and private Junko Oikawa Visiting Academic Researcher, Hosei University.
sectors and formed independently by citizens who awaken to their legal rights and join together to defend such rights.
Interest in volunteerism and other forms of community involvement rose rapidly in the wake of the Great Sichuan Earthquake of 2008 and the Beijing Olympics, held later that year. Although major obstacles still confront anyone seeking to establish or maintain a public interest organization truly independent of government or party control, the role of nongovernmental and other public-interest groups in Chinese society expanded rapidly. The Internet contributed substantially to this trend by diversifying the channels for public discourse. As of June 2013, China had an estimated 600 million Internet users—more than 44% of its population. With citizens’ consciousness of social issues and modes of engagement evolving rapidly, many discovered ingenious new uses for the Internet as an organizing tool. The owners of this “nail house” refused to obey an Growing civic and taxpayer eviction order, thwarting plans for a shopping mall.
awareness erupted in a variety of (© Zhou Shuguang) civil rights (weiquan) campaigns, as citizens began to take ownership of issues requiring action. This phenomenon awoke keen interest in the concept of “civil society” (gongmin shehui), among academics and journalists.
Meanwhile, however, the rapid proliferation of organized movements began to alarm the government. In January 2011, officials responded by banning the use of the term gongmin shehui in the media (although gonggong shehui, or “public society,” has frequently popped up in its stead). More recently gongmin shehui appeared among seven topics of instruction banned from university classrooms under a policy directive issued in May 2013. Like “universal values” and “freedom of the press” (also among the banned topics), the Chinese leadership has come to view “civil society” as a loaded term with politically sensitive implications.
Xu Zhiyong and the New Citizens’ Movement But banning the word has not stopped private citizens from making forays into
this new frontier. One of the most noteworthy experiments is the New Citizens’ Movement, led by Xu Zhiyong.
Born in 1973, Xu Zhiyong first rose to prominence in connection with the death of Sun Zhigang in 2003. Sun Zhigang was a young man from rural Hebei who had found employment in the city of Guangzhou. On March 17, 2003, Sun was picked up by police and detained for failing to produce proper identification. Shortly afterwards, he was beaten to death at a detention center. The incident ignited a firestorm of criticism online, together with a challenge from legal scholars, who questioned the constitutionality of a longstanding regulation authorizing police to detain and repatriate undocumented migrant workers in the cities. In an epoch-making victory for citizens’ action in China, the government bowed to the combined pressure of public indignation and critical media coverage and repealed the regulation. Xu Zhiyong was one of the three legal scholars whose open letter to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee was said to have been instrumental in getting the regulation repealed.
In the wake of this triumph, Xu and his colleagues set up Gongmeng, or the Open Constitution Initiative—an NGO dedicated to the use of legal and judicial means to protect the civil rights of socially disadvantaged persons. Xu also held the position of lecturer at the Beijing University of Post and Telecommunications until recently, but he was barred from teaching in 2009, when authorities decided to crack down on Gongmeng. At that time Xu was arrested and detained on charges of tax evasion, although he was released after about a month.
Xu’s next major project was the creation of the New Citizens’ Movement, dedicated to the development of a “just and happy civil society” “ruled by democracy and law,” with “freedom, righteousness, love” as the new national spirit. 1 The group has lobbied for equal educational opportunities and an end to discriminatory enforcement of the household registration (hukou) system. In recent months, some members have even taken to the streets, calling on public officials to disclose their assets. One of the most interesting features of the movement is its strategy of urging supporters all around China to hold simultaneous dinners once a month to discuss social problems facing their communities. The emphasis on convivial dinner parties, as opposed to confrontational demonstrations or rallies, struck a chord with the public and captured media attention as a promising new model of civic involvement.
Activities of this sort are clearly sanctioned by Article 35 of the Constitution http://xuzhiyong.org/2013/07/29/1315.htm.
of the People’s Republic of China, which states that “citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration.” But in a state where the will of the party trumps the rule of law, social campaigns and citizens’ groups are constantly subject to police surveillance and interference. On April 12 this year, Xu Zhiyong was detained once again as he was preparing to attend a symposium marking the tenth anniversary of Sun Zhigang’s death. He was then placed under house arrest without due process before being formally charged on July 16 with disrupting public order. According to human rights observers, at least 15 other activists connected with the New Citizens’ Movement were detained during roughly the same period.
Supporters responded with a petition protesting Xu’s arrest. Launched by some of China’s most prominent voices for democratic reform—including renowned economist Mao Yushi, who has persistently lobbied for political reform, and veteran journalist Xiao Shu, a longtime human rights advocate—the petition collected signatures from more than 2,000 supporters inside and outside of China by the end of July. Email solicitations and supporter websites and blogs have played an important role in rallying support and gathering signatures. But the updates and informational materials posted on these websites highlight the grim realities confronting the New Citizens’ Movement.