Saturday, January 24, 2009

China's Eco-Civilization (生态文明)

This past week, CGS wrote a post describing China's "new road" environmental policy. In that post, CGS questioned whether China is seeking to change the orientation of its environmental policy. That question is probed further in this post, which analyzes a speech given by Ministry of Environmental Protection Vice-Minister Pan Yue at the "High-Level Summit on the 30th Anniversary of Reform and Opening and Environmental Protection," a speech entitled "China's Traditional Ecological Knowledge Influences Westerners" (中华传统的生态智慧影响西方人, in Chinese only).

Pan opens the speech reflecting on the number of Westerners who seek to understand ecological knowledge through studying Daoism, Confucianism, and other Chinese philosophical and religious systems. Pan asserts that these traditions impart a unique capacity for ecological thought to modern Chinese society ("
为什么中华民族能够独自延续生存到今天?就是因为我 们的文化理念蕴含着更加深刻的生态智慧,我们的伦理与制度充满着这种深刻的生态智慧,我们的生活方式实践着这种深刻的生态智慧,我们的历史传统延续着这种 深刻的生态智慧.") Such traditions, Pan says, have entrenched concepts like "harmony" and "temperence" in Chinese society, and form the basis for a Chinese "ecological civilization" ("这些价值观在现实制度和生活中具体落实为一个“度”。“度”就是分寸,就是节制,就是礼数,就是平衡,就是和谐…“度”不仅是中国的政治智慧,也是中国人的生活智慧,更是中国生态智慧的凝练表达。")

This ecological civilization, according to Pan, entails the curtailing of material ambitions and desires. With this check in place, ecological civilization can "correct all the repeated missteps of nihilism and consumerism brought by Western industrial civilization" ("
...不追求物质享受的最大化,而是追求生命之美和人生意境,使得生态文明中的日常生活超越了 现实的功利追求...这种从容有度的生活方式通过节制人的无限欲望,进而追求充 实饱满的精神境界。有了这一境界,就能使我们辨析、纠正西方工业文明所带来的消费主义和虚无主义的重重迷误.")

Thus positioned, Pan's Chinese ecological civilization is poised to be the next phase of socioeconomic development, following agricultural and industrial civilization. Indeed, says Pan, China's Confucian traditions make it the natural wellspring of this new ecological civilization, ("
中国的现代化建设已经完成了救亡图存的历史使命,一个承载千年道统的政治民族最终屹立于世界东方,这是中国建设生态 文明的政治基础;充满生态智慧的中华道统在现代社会实现创造性转化,这是中国建设生态文明的思想文化基础。因此,中国完全有条件、有能力实现人类三期文明 的跨越式发展.") Intriguingly, Pan also suggests that economic modernization (the kind which has brought so much environmental destruction) provided part of the economic and political basis on which to build ecological civilization.

CGS finds much of interest in this speech. Most glaringly, what would a Chinese eco-civilization look like? Pan seems to suggest it would be a natural outgrowth of traditional Chinese thought and culture. Indeed, Pan's ecological vision almost seems to be a nationalistic one. Of course, too much shouldn't be made of Pan's speech in terms of concrete policy, but it is interesting to comment on these subtleties.   

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