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Development Transition of a Polluted Area: Huangxing, Changsha (2011)

DENG Yanhua,  Southwestern University of Finance and Economics (Small Grant 2011)
The serious environmental degradation caused by rural industrialization in China has become an issue of growing concern and prompted many public protests. But even when protests are successful, it is often not easy for polluted rural areas to make the transition to a cleaner development pathway.To date, most research has focused on the public protests themselves and does little to chart the developmental and economic trajectories of transitioning areas. This project explored how one township in Hunan was able to make a successful transition.
Until 2002, Huangxing Township was the largest producer of manganese sulfate in all of East Asia. Although the area’s thirteen chemical factories contributed to over eighty-five percent of the township’s economy, they also caused serious environmental pollution. The factories contaminated over five square kilometers of soil,dirtied the drinking water of over eight hundred households, expelled dust, killed aquatic life, and turned the local river black. Increasing pressure from local protests and broad media coverage forced the local government to shut down all the factories in 2002.
Over the next ten years, Huangxing cultivated a development pathway centered on agriculture, with a secondary focus on tourism and service industries. The township opened up previously unused land for cultivating flowers, trees, and vegetables, formed an agricultural association to liaise with the Changsha Department of Forestry, and brought two neighboring townships into its model ecological agriculture zone. The township also established a number of rural-style tourist venues, serving over one million visitors by 2011. Most of the Huangxing factories also successfully transitioned into other non-polluting lines of production. Agriculture and tourism provided tangible benefits to Huangxing’s residents, increasing average revenues nearly fourfold by 2012. Additionally, although the local economy experienced an initial shock after the closure of the factories, township revenues rebounded to even higher levels by 2012. Because of improved environmental conditions, over twenty national and international companies entered Changsha county by 2006, changing the region from a place seeking investment to a choice location for investment.
The investigators argue that the successful transition is due to the fit between local policies and societal interests, with the new enterprises benefiting ordinary local farmers. However, the transition has not dramatically increased fiscal revenue for the local government, and incentives to do so may cause pressure to move away from this societally and ecologically oriented model of development. However, in the case of Huangxing, at least, policies that encouraged the agency of local society provided support for the activism and cooperation that brought about a successful developmental transition.

For more information about this project, please contact DENG Yanhua (