China entered the 21st century relatively under the radar. While the Western powers were scrambling around dealing with terrorism, China pushed forward to bolster its economy. In 2008, Beijing stole the attention of the international media away from the terrorists with its wild display at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Now, in 2015, China can say it endured all the doomsday predictions and is an economic superpower, to stay for the foreseeable future–with struggles along the way.
It goes without saying that China’s two main problems are population and pollution. Mostly, though, the policies put forth by Beijing seem to hardly reflect any concern for these two issues, choosing instead to focus on the nation’s economy. Unfortunately for the people of China, the two main problems are intertwined, with the high population being the main catalyst for outrageous pollution. What are the main causes of China’s population-related pollution? They are listed below:
- Coal burning (at least 1/3 of the problem)
- Industrial production
- Vehicle exhaust
- Construction sites
Most people already understand these issues; however, I want to pick at one of these polluters in particular: coal burning. It may not be known to the rest of the world that, in China, individual homes are burning coal. Coal is one of China’s most abundant resources and is a lot cheaper and more convenient for Chinese to keep their house warm during the winter by burning coal than by many other methods. If you have never seen what the effects are of an entire city that burns coal during the winter, see the image below. It is well-known to Chinese that the worst time of the year for pollution is the winter because of this factor.
Two-Child Policy: A Step Forward?
Beijing’s recent decision to permit two children per household sounds like a step forward. It sure is unusual for the oppressive type of policies the Chinese politburo is known for. However, the reason given by the Chinese government for making this policy change wasn’t for the improvement of its citizens’ livelihood. Instead, the officials were quoted as saying that by increasing the population, the nation could address its productivity issues. The policy is purely economic.
Rather than investing in its people, Beijing would rather water-down their economic system with cheap labor by increasing the country’s already bloated population, thus offering the world their own citizens as some of the lowest paid and hardest working laborers with little to no benefit to the Chinese themselves. Their pursuit of the status quo for the foreseeable future is disheartening to those that saw hope of seeing a less polluted and healthier China within this generation. Unfortunately, we will all see a China that continues to compete for manufacturing contracts from foreign developed countries, choosing this as its main method for funding its development. This is the path that Beijing has chosen for its people. This is the alternative to diversifying the development scheme and refining its investment in the interest of the people’s well-being.
Bo Yang’s (柏杨) Legacy
In typical Chinese government style, Beijing is to enforce a policy that is potentially for the wrong reasons. At 1.36 billion citizens in 2015, China’s population could continue to soar if the policy settles into the minds of the citizens. As famous Chinese author and scholar Bo Yang (柏杨) writes, the Chinese leaders’ decision-making has a tendency to only benefit around 20-30% of the nation rather than 80-90%. It is the reason that China continues to do harm to itself, time and again. In his book, The Ugly Chinaman (醜陋的中人國), Mr. Bo Yang purports that China’s population is one of the worst catastrophes of China’s history and the main cause of the “Chinese tragedy.”
Returning to the main issue and possibly what Mr. Bo Yang foresaw, more households will result in more personally owned vehicles and emissions, more coal burning, more construction sites–those items that all are on the list of what causes–more pollution. As hard as it might be to accept, it may be the best for China to sustain its one-child policy to lower its population, at least until the country has a solid green energy solution. Beijing should let go of its dead-iron hold on the idea that it can develop through forceful means that is costing the health of everyone, not just due to pollution. Also because of the immense amount of stress and lack of oversight that exists in the nation because of the challenges at administering such an enormous amount of people.
For those traveling to China, have a good time, but don’t expect blue skies and an avenue to yourself to walk down in the near future.