From the Avoidable to the Desirable: the Chinese Communist Party ‘Green’ Authoritarian Strategy. Shanghai as Case Study

From the Avoidable to the Desirable: the Chinese Communist Party ‘Green’ Authoritarian Strategy. Shanghai as Case Study
Virginie Arantes


The argument goes that, as living standards rise, the demand for better environmental management increases and a liberal political system is best placed to deal with such issues. In contrast to the dominant discussions of environmentalism, which concentrates on the relationship between democracy and environmentalism, this thesis suggests that environmental protection can become a playground for authoritarian regimes to pursue ulterior motives and goals. Using the concept of environmental authoritarianism, the following research assesses the resilience capacity of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) despite the gravity of its environmental crisis and mounting citizen grievances. An ethnographic methodology composed of different methods is employed to undertake the investigation including participant observation, field notes, interviews and document analysis. The implementation of cooperation and legitimation strategies are investigated at an urban city level in the field of environmental sustainability. Broadly, the thesis argues that the environmental governance capacity of the CCP has been developed around three ideas: (1) (re)centralise environmental governance efforts; (2) create a consensus around environmental protection (e.g. ‘ecological civilisation’); and (3) institutionalise grassroots movements. Using actor-network-theory as a method of analysis, I explore how these processes occur in practice at a local level through two case studies: a registered NGO working on waste reduction and a social enterprise aimed at strengthening rural communities and promoting sustainable agriculture. The thesis findings indicate that there has been a shift from fragmentation to a consolidation resulting in less room for contentious participation. The instrumentalisation of environmental issues by the government prevent environmental activists to resist co-optation by the government machinery. Still, empirical evidence demonstrates that actors continuously adapt to new pressures. Broadly, by focusing on Shanghai as a case study, the following research advances that environmental protection is being instrumentally mobilised to legitimise a variety of planning practices through the use of a complex combination of mobilising, politicising and depoliticising techniques. Wider conclusions are drawn on authoritarian resilience, China’s public participation, and authoritarian modes of environmental governance.


Virginie Arantes

Defended in


PhD defended at

Université libre de Bruxelles, Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences, Political Science


Social Sciences




National politics