The Economic Boom in China and its Influence on the Environment

Essay, 2013
11 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The economic development of China

3. Environmental pollution/changes through the economic boom
3.1 Air-pollution
3.1.1 The blacklist
3.1.2 International comparison
3.1.3 Causes of air pollution
3.2 Water pollution
3.2.1 Freshwater
3.2.2 Algae bloom
3.3 Forests
3.3.1 Desertification

4. China´s Action plan on Environment and Health (2007-2015)
4.1 Guideline to China´s Action plan

5. Future prospects

6. Conclusion



This written assignment is concerned with the economic boom in China and its negative side effects. After a short introduction about the economic development in China, the types of pollutions and the changes are going to be explained. There will be a schedule of the most significant pollution-types and an explanation what China actually does against the environmental pollution. Afterwards there will be a statement about the future prospects. At least a resume about all those facts in form of a conclusion takes place.

1. Introduction

In the year 2010, China replaced Japan as the second largest economy in the world. The Chinese economy has continued to grow strongly in recent years and even during the global economic crisis.

Nevertheless, the economic boom in China has also had negative side effects. There are continual negative headlines about the environmental pollution in China.

In the following, I will try to make clear, which negative side effects exist, either direct or indirect, and how the environment has suffered due to China´s economic boom.

Afterwards I will explain what China actually does against the environmental pollution and what the future prospects are.

2. The economic development of China

When the Republic of China was founded in 1949, the economy was on the ground. After World War II, which was very hard for China, because of the power struggle between the Communists under Mao Zedong and the Nationalists, large parts of industry and agriculture were destroyed.

China was an underdeveloped agrarian society; almost 90% of the approximately 540 million people lived in the backcountry.[1]

After the communists were victorious in the Civil War, the Chinese economy was nationalized quickly. Communist planned economy was introduced. Planned economy is the opposite of the free market. In a planned economy the state makes a long-term plan about production etc., because everyone has the fiction that the state knows best what to produce or which services they have to make demands on.

Even the private farmers and small craft businesses were dispossessed of. In the following graph you can see that the growth rates of national income were initially very high. However, it should be noted that the starting basis was very low.[2]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The economic growth was, as can be seen from the graph, up to the early 60s at a high level. The economy was still very reliant on agriculture. Due to the political break with its former partner the Soviet Union and the poor harvest in 1960, China experienced one of the greatest famines in history.

From 1961 up to 1976 the strict Marxist rules were loosened for the first time. The state influence on the economy was reduced. Agriculture was designed more freely, so that farmers could achieve personal gain from produced surpluses. In 1966 there was heavy internal unrest, because of the culture-revolution. This also influenced the economic development of China.[3]

The reforms began in 1976 with Mao's death. Afterwards the policy had been orientated to economic needs rather than by ideological goals. The new object was to belong to the biggest economic powers till the year 2000. Therefore big infrastructure projects were undertaken, which meant the construction of new roads and infrastructure facilities for providing energy became top priority. Foreign capital was needed for the infrastructure, so they changed laws in 1979 to set up special economic zones. From then on the economy started to increase quickly.

From 1952 to 1985, China´s economy grew by 720%. While agriculture grew only by about 200%, the industry expanded by 2900%. In 1952, the primary sector was the largest sector with 57.7% share of the national income. The secondary sector (23.1%) and the tertiary sector (19.2%) were comparatively small. In 1985 the secondary sector already dominated with 52.8% in front of the primary sector with 32.4% and the tertiary sector (14.8%). China had transformed from an agricultural to an industrial country.

Since the mid-80s, little by little, major economic reforms were initiated. Private industry was allowed to a much greater extent than before and market economy was introduced. Price mechanisms soon regulated supply and demand in more and more sectors of the economy. In almost all parts of the economy foreign investments were allowed and carried out, but the major infrastructure areas such as power, roads and educational institutions remained in state hands.[4]

Since the 90´s China has made a noise in the world with their economic boom.

Nowadays, in China´s large cities, giant billboards, neon signs and facades of big stores dominate the cityscape. The general message is: Create wealth according to the west style. The youth seem to follow this message, uncritically and dedicatedly, as they once did with the slogans of Mao. The pent-up demand of the Chinese people is understandable and also the desire for individuality after the years of uniformation.

3. Environmental pollution/changes through the economic boom

The economic boom cost China dearly. 750,000 people die every year from the consequences of the environmental crisis. 350,000 up to 400,000 people, because of the inhalation of bad air in the cities, another 300,000 die, because the air in the buildings is polluted. 11 per cent of the patients with digestive tract cancer are victims of dirty drinking water. Gastro-intestinal-diseases, which are transferred through dirty water, are common in the countryside.

The pollution of air and water causes most damage to health and are responsible for an economical damage of 4.3 per cent of the gross domestic product in China.

In the following I will explain the different types and effects of environmental pollution in China.[5]

3.1 Air-pollution

The SEPA (State Environmental Protection Administration), environmental authority of China, publishes the air-quality of the biggest 84 Chinese cities everyday. The API (Air Pollution Index) describes the content of sulphur dioxide, nitric oxide and inhalable items in air, which affect the lung. The measurements confirm, that Chinese people in the city are breathing high pollutant concentrations daily.

In 60 per cent of the cities the air is charged with waste gas consistently. Only 37.6% of the cities, most of them located in the west without much industry, reached an air quality, which is harmless for humans. In 9.1% of the cities, strong or very strong air pollution was measured.[6]

3.1.1 The blacklist

In the year 2006, 39 cities were on the blacklist of SEPA, four less than the year before. Seven of these are located in China´s coal-province Shaanxi, and another seven in the northeast province Liaoning, the centre of the smokestack industries.

This list was created to make the biggest polluter public and “ (…) China intends to send a message that the days of exploiting the country’s legacy of lax environmental policy are over.“[7]

3.1.2 International comparison

In an international comparison, Chinese air performs badly. 16 out of 20 cities with highly polluted air are located in China. Cities like Wanshan, Tianying and Huaxi.

Among the ten most polluted places in the world, presented in September 2007 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Chinese city Linfen in Shanxi was a generic example of excessive air pollution.

According to expert assessments in the near future China will replace the U.S. as the largest emitter of C02.[8]

3.1.3 Causes of air pollution

The main causes of air pollution are the use of high sulphur and ash-containing coal as an energy source (70 per cent of their energy is generated by coal), bad industrial filtration systems, but also through the rapid rise of private motor vehicles. Only 2 out of 100 Chinese own a car and more people want to and are able to buy vehicles.

In 2005, 5.92 million vehicles were sold and the trend is rising. Nearly three million vehicles are on the road in the Chinese capital and more than 1,000 cars are newly registered every day. The resulting air pollution leads to a stronger greenhouse effect and thus to global warming.[9]

3.2 Water pollution

Water isn’t homogeneously distributed in China. 80 per cent of water resources are in the central Chinese Yangtze region and in the south of the country, while the north suffers from water shortages. 550 million people are affected, two thirds of China´s agriculture and important industrial centres. About 65% of water resources are used by industry and an unknown percentage by people.

In the areas like in Peking or Chengou, where missing surface waters, groundwater is tapped. The ground-water-level drops every year by about 1.5 metres in the north Chinese lowlands.

Surface and groundwater are contaminated in many places through acid rain or arsenic pollution. The last one is a natural problem, because arsenic is often enclosed in sediments of the ground.[10]

According to official figures, 340 million people nationwide have no access to clean water. They have to buy expensive clean water from stores or take the hazard of diseases drinking charged water.[11]

3.2.1 Freshwater

China has seven major river systems. In 2006, 67 per cent of the water was not suitable for human use. The heaviest pollution was measured in the streams Huai (Central China between Yangtze and Yellow River), Liao (Northeast China), Hai (near by Tianjin), Songhua (Northeast China) and in the Yellow River. 70 to 80 per cent of the water was heavily polluted. Environmental accidents as in November 2005 exacerbate the situation. A petrochemical factory in north China´s Jilin exploded and 100 tons of benzene leaked into the Songhua River. This caused a trans boundary environmental disaster. Millions of people in North China and Siberia were cut off from clean drinking water for weeks. Between November 2005 and April 2006, the Chinese government has reported 76 more cases of water pollution. In 2007, on average every two days, an environmental accident occurred.

In 2006, the Yangtze River and the Pearl River were the only ones, which had good water quality in a domestic Chinese comparison. 350 million people use the Yangtze

River increasingly economically. They construct dams to gain energy, straighten riversides for shipping traffic and sand and grit mining increased.

The river ecosystem is attacked; the fish population declines and many other species are threatened. The Yangtze River dolphin was sighted for the last time in 2004. Other major species such as the finless porpoise, the Chinese crocodile and all of the nine sturgeon species are considered to be in danger.

Six of the ten largest natural lakes in China, like the lake Qinghai, are not suitable for water preparation. Two popular tourist locations, lake Taihu (near Shanghai) and Dianchi (at Kunming), were counted as extremely polluted. The lakes aren´t only important for tourism, drinking water supply or the absorption of floodwater, but rather as a wintering ground for millions of migratory birds.[12]

3.2.2 Algae bloom

China´s waters are not only polluted by the discharge of untreated industrial and urban sewage, but also by runoff from fertilizer and pesticides from agriculture. Meanwhile China has a share of 34% of global demand for phosphorus fertilizers.[13] Most of the agriculture is located in the southwest of China. Particularly this region is known for their numerous rivers, so nearly 80% of agriculture is near water.

An example: In July 2007, there was an explosive spread of toxic algae in the water reservoir of Changchun (Northeast China). Pesticides from agriculture caused this.

The phenomenon of algal bloom (“red tide”) is observed regularly in the estuary of the Yangtze, as you can see in the picture below, and some other coastal areas. In 2003, the Ministry of Fisheries reported a total of 119 cases of “red tide”.

An algae bloom in 2004, off the coast Zhejiang is said to covered an area of 10,000 square kilometres.

In June 2006, an algae bloom of even bigger extent was reported. This lead to a fishery-collapse, because several tons of fish died of neurotoxin.[14]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: Bathers with protective clothing at Yangtze[15]

3.3 Forests

China was thickly forested, especially in the west and south, due to wood-exports and the higher domestic demand of furniture etc. Today, the forest is estimated to be below 18 per cent. There are big forests in the western Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, in Fujian in the south, in the northeast of the country and in Inner Mongolia. The excessive deforestation in the west, the headwater of the Yangtze and Mekong, has led to soil erosion and flood disasters. In 1998, 4159 people died as a consequence of the flood, which lasted for weeks. Millions of people were homeless. Since then, the deforestation of natural forest has been forbidden. As a retaliatory action, China will reforest the west of China and northward from Beijing.

Nevertheless, China needs wood, especially for the furniture industry and other sectors in the industry.

This lead to, China being the biggest importer of wood in the world with nearly 55% from all wood imports. They import from Russia, Malaysia and Indonesia where illegal deforestation is daily routine.[16]

3.3.1 Desertification

Desertification means, to transform land which was originally fertile in a desert without flora. In China the desert is spreading due to years of mismanagement, overgrazing, deforestation and overexploitation of water, as well as pollution and climate change.

Overgrazing and deforestation decreases the sparse vegetation, the soil loses its strength and is without the protective layer. In process of time the rainfall removes the top layer of soil (humus layer), or it dries out and is removed by the wind.

The area (figure 3) hit by desertification, with 2.62 million square kilometres, concerns now already 27% of land that was used as agriculture and stock farming before.

The degradation of the ground rises steadily and the life of the local people, animals and plants is endangered.[17]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

figure 3: Soil degradation[18]

4. China´s Action plan on Environment and Health (2007-2015)

A state development plan, elaborated at the beginning of the 21st century, claims the implementation of a green strategy, a necessary decision in order to enable sustainable development of Chinese economy. This strategy includes the development of a circular economy, the efficient use of resources, the development of environmentally friendly production, the promotion of environmentally friendly consumption, the reduction of environmental damage and the development of new energy sources, in short, the implementation of a thorough conversion.

This strategy includes following points:

- development of a circular economy
- efficient use of resources
- development of environmentally friendly production
- reduction of disposal costs in the production process
- promotion of environmentally friendly consumption
- reduction of environmental damage
- development of new energy sources

In short, the implementation of a thorough conversion of the mode of production and a breakthrough to an ecological industrial culture and the creation of an ecosystem, in which human and nature coexist harmoniously.[19]

It´s hard to find data here, because the Chinese government didn´t publish any laws that have been passed. In order to this, it was also hard to find any results from them.


[1] See Praeger (1990), p. 71

[2] See Praeger (1990), p. 40

[3] See Ebrey (2010), p. 341

[4] See Ebrey (2010), p. 332

[5] See Schlaak (2011), p. 3

[6] See URL: [15.11.13]

[7] See URL: [02.12.13]

[8] See URL: AA& Uv3WEM7Ssgb7z ICICg&usg=AFQj CNFYRj IW1PI52m EU289e0Q6Dj3d8Jg&sig2=5Jsv V16ga X7mrp GEGlm Xf Q&bvm=bv.55123115,d.Yms [15.11.13]

[9] See Seinitz (2011), p. 40

[10] See URL: [25.11.13]

[11] See The world bank (1997), p. 11

[12] See The world bank (1997), p. 11

[13] See URL: [18.11.13]

[14] See Seinitz (2012), p. 37

[15] See URL: [18.11.13]

[16] See URL: [18.11.13]

[17] See URL: [18.11.13]

[18] See URL: [18.11.13]

[19] See URL: [19.11.13]

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The Economic Boom in China and its Influence on the Environment
University of Applied Sciences Kufstein Tirol
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Johannes Koch (Author), 2013, The Economic Boom in China and its Influence on the Environment, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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