The Main Causes of China’s Environmental Issues: Our Culture and our System

Note: This post was put up by Dr. Jambeck on behalf of Luran from China who wanted to communicate these environmental issues (embedded with culture) for open discussion. 

From my perspective, the environmental issues in America are nothing compared to those in China. China has many serious environmental problems including air pollution, water pollution, littering and landfills, natural resource depletion and impact on wildlife. However laws and regulations have little effects. The culprits are Chinese culture and system.




China has almost 1.4 billion people. Overpopulation means less resource, poverty and unemployment. In traditional Chinese culture, more children meant more prosperity. So Chinese people want to have as many children as possible, especially in rural areas.


They burn firecrackers for celebration and burn ghost money in memory of their dead relatives, which contributes to deforestation and air pollution. According to Chinese tradition, burning fireworks can scare away evil spirits and burning ghost money means sending money to the dead. So they can live wealthy lives in another world.

Firecrackersghost money


Chinese tradition medicines can cure disease. It is still widely used in China today. However it has a negative impact on wild animals. For example, they harvest bile from the bear and scale from the pangolin.


The System

The central government cares more about GDP, which is the most important evaluation criterion for officials. So local governments sacrifice environment to maintain GDP. The corruption in China is serious. Officials of the government get money from polluting factories (bribes) and then they protect them. Chinese officials are not elected by people. Their leadership is determined by officials above them. So many local officials are trying their best to make their leader happy but don’t care about people’s well-being.

Improving technology can contribute to a better environment but it doesn’t work in China. In China, both a talent shortage and graduate unemployment have emerged as problems in recent years. It is because China’s graduates are not qualified for the jobs. The Communist Party controls almost the whole education system. The only way to get into a good university is to win the national college entrance exam. The students need to study from early morning to late night and do tons of practice homework. They must accept what the Communist Party wants you to learn even though it is useless, fake or biased. Most universities or collages are owned by the government. They are not allowed to recruit students and create academic programs independently. They have poor facilities and teachers. Such colleges will never collapse because they are supported by the government. Students have no choice but go to these colleges. They come out narrow-minded, weak and lacking in knowledge and skills. That’s why there are more and more unemployed graduates. In order to solve the unemployment and keep economic growth, China has to rely heavily on polluted industries.

China Job fairProtest

I think the most effective and efficient way to solve China’s environmental issues is westernization (adopt Western culture, values, democracy and Capitalism). What’s your opinion?



7 thoughts on “The Main Causes of China’s Environmental Issues: Our Culture and our System

  1. Such a fascinating perspective to get to read about environmental issues in China from someone actually from there! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. My inner anthropologist always shudders when someone advocates that a certain place should adopt the culture of another place, especially one with such a rich cultural heritage as China. Though I do see where you’re coming from with the poor animals used in natural medicine (although the flip side of that is looking at the widespread pollution caused by the Western pharmaceutical industry…) I guess it’s easier for us to criticize our own cultures, the ones we’re familiar with. So when I read this, I think about what those polluting factories in China are producing – and it’s largely manufactured goods to fulfill the consumer greed of the West. When stricter environmental and safety regulations in the US made manufacturing more expensive here, we just transported those jobs and their resulting environmental issues abroad (of course there were other issues at play, like your mention of the government of China vying for economic growth). Overall, I think in our increasingly global economy it’s highly difficult to segregate the blame for environmental issues to one culture practice or set of economic policies. If the air is polluted because of manufacturing in Beijing encouraged by the Chinese government but it is an American company’s factory, who is really to blame? I don’t know that there is a clear answer to that question.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment. First animals and herbs are just raw materials not final products. The final products are capsules, tablets or something else. I am not in pharmacy but it is hard to imagine there is less pollution in the process. Possibly, the pollution caused by producing Chinese traditional medicine is as much as or even more than Western medicine.
      Take steel industry as an example, Chinese industrial companies have developed huge overcapacity problems and there are a lot of zombie companies. It seems like China wants to supply and hope other countries buy Chinese products.


  2. I have seen statistics on some of China’s environmental issues and I have to agree that they are worse off environmentally. In this class we spend a lot of time focusing on the US and its reactions to various political and environmental issues, but I think that it is important to note that, at the end of the day, the environment is something that everyone on the planet shares. Just as things bleed across state lines, so do they bleed across international boundaries. Anything that any country does to help the environment is a positive force for not only them, but for the whole world. Similarly, any negative action or lack of action has detrimental effects for everyone. The problem is, many countries are not willing to put in the effort and investment to bring about significant environmental reform unless they can see evidence of its success in other countries. But many of the issues cannot even begin to be solved (greenhouse effect, ocean pollution) unless all, or at least the majority, of the countries are on board. It is an unfortunate international stale mate that I fear will not be solved until the people of many countries begin to be directly affected in a negative way (i.e. Death, loss of homes). Until then, most countries prefer to either deny environmentalism all together, or put significant reform off for “later” while they handle more pressing issues.


  3. Wow, thank you for sharing such a great blog Luran and posting an important ethical question in development. I was actually a little thrown back when you asked if China should adopt more western cultures, but with the controlling Chinease government and education system, I understand where you are coming from and that changes need to be done there. I dont want to compare China and Tanzania (which has an long history with white/western colonialization and the effects of white/western missionaries and aid organizations helping Africa since Africa is the “poor” continent), but when I left Tanzania, I strongly felt that western influence had many negative effects on the country environmentally and socially and love to get international students feedback on my opinion and observations.

    Without weighing the the pros and cons of both western and East African culture, I feel many Tanzanians dimiss East African tradiational beliefs, beauty, and way of life as being “less than” and “not good enough” and see western culture, especially American, as the standard to live up to, some to the point of calling it heavan. An example of this can be easily seen in East African women hair styles, many pay money to get plastic wigs so they can have a more western look. Maybe the want for hair styles will help the econmiy but my environmentalist side asks, “Why would they be wasting resources and causing plastic waste trying to look like a different culture?” Many traditional beliefs are stigmatized (possibly from colonialists and missionaires deeming them satanic) and people practice them or see traditional healers in secret. While some beliefs were horrid – for example killing albinos for financial power – I dont believe all were and instead of dimissing them, I think it is worth researchers time to investigate the effectiveness of some of their traditional medicines. They have an British-influenced education system that does not neccessarily provide the most upward mobility for students nor have the best teaching philosophies. Regarding Tanzanian youth, among which having “boyfriends” and “girlfriends” have become much more popular, I once had a Tanzanian mom tell me that Tanzanian youth look up to American youth and want to be like us. I wish Tanzanians would stop asking themselves, “how can we be more like west?” and rather “what do we need to do to improove our society?” and equally weigh western and east african solutions, taking the pros and cons from both.

    I also thought the influx of western culture has affected some peoples self-views. With American TV shows and movies being broadcasted over television, Africans are constantly reminded that they are the poor of the world. Also for example my Kenyan friend told me once, “We grew up being told that Kenya is not as good as a country like America, I dont know if thats true, but the attitude persists among Kenyans.” And sure, we beat out Kenya in a lot of statistics, but the attitude that the East African culture is “less than” was painful for me to hear and I think prevents people from acting due to hopelessness, shame, and depression rather than trying to improove their situation with the resources available or innovating their own solutions.

    If you cant tell, I was deeply saddened by this attitude that I encountered in Tanzania. I personally dont believe Western institutions or lifestyle is heaven, the best option for East Africa, nor should be the standard to live up to but rather a combination of the pros froms each culture. Again, I would love your opinion on this! Do you see this attitude in China? What do you think is the balance between economic development, funding which largely comes from the western world, but also preserving culture?


    1. Luran, this is a great post! You made a lot of great points. China’s massive population is a double edged. For as the labor force is abundant the quality of life is decreased. This is one of the major issues that China has to address first and figure out a feasible solution that can combat the influx of imported manufacturing, which is the catalyst for environmental conditions in China.


  4. I appreciate your comments. Today China’s Environmental issues as well as other problems are very serious. Finding our own solutions requires time and more important it could lead to great disaster. For example, 60 years ago Chairman Mao launched a campaign named “Great Leap Forward”. He asked Chinese people to do their utmost to make steel in order to surpass developed countries in several years. This led to Great Famine of which 30 million people died.


  5. This is a great blog! There are some serious issues in China is all of this is true. Westernization may be the answer, but I am no subject matter experts on this so I would take my comment as a grain of salt. But, I do believe that China’s officials need to stop and take a moment to re-adjust their agendas. I believe that they need to agree on their current pressing matters and then because China is communist that it needs to be enforced from the top-down. Some of their issues will greatly effect their future if not taken seriously, and it would be a shame for a country with so many people and such high GDP to crash due to negligence.


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