Essay question: Discuss how the rise of the Chinese middle class has resulted in both environmental harm and the protection of the environment in China.
Introduction (Approx 10% of wordcount = 150 words)
China 4th largest country in world – Fawsset p.13.
Home to over billion citizens – Fawsset p.13.
? make up biggest middle class on planet Fawsset p.13.
Urbanisation resulted in mass migration of millions of Chinese from rural to city areas Fawsset p.47.
Mention relationship between development of ind sector and env harm Fawssett p.
Define class a system that groups people within society according to their social status or economic wealth Fawssett p. 51.
MB Para. 1 (Approx 240 words) History of Chinas economy.
Between 1978 and 2010 economy grew at rate +10% – Fawssett, p. 13.
Main drivers of economic growth.
Key driving force growth of the manufacturing sector. Chinese is worlds largest Fawssett p. 37.
Government drove shift in focus from low cost items to higher cost manufacturing and services Fawssett p. 37.
No of people taken out of poverty 680 million.
Inequality as a result of market economy. Urban dwellers earn more than 2 x that of rural citizens Fawssett p. 24.
Number and size of cities increasing.
Opportunities that cities present and rising aspirations lead to middle class.
Greater consumption is a factor associated with middle class.
MB Para. 2 (Approx 240 words) Change in diet
Inc in demand for food = inc in fertilisers for higher yields of crops M & P p. 96.
Urbanisation and greater distances that food has to travel resulted in a change in diet of Chinese people M & P p. 95.
Env harm water pollution – eutrophication M & P p.99.
Decay of plant matter removes oxygen.
Case study lake Chaohu located in one of Chinas main grain regions. Fertilisers likely to be the source of algal bloom in 2015 M & P p. 99.
Urbanisation and change of diet means that processing and packaging are different. Processing to preserve i.e. pickling. Packaging +
Case study Jackie Chu grew up poor and with a limited diet of porridge. Moved to Beijing in a comfortable apartment much more food choice luxury items such as air conditioning Block 5 audio clip (online).
MB Para. 3 (Approx 240 words) Energy consumption
Requirement for energy increases with consumption.
China worlds largest user of energy and responsible for ? of worldwide consumption Peake et al p. 144.
Harm to the environment is poor air quality in city areas.
Carbon dioxide emissions rose by 5 ? percent during peak economic activity – Peake et al p. 146. 90% of energy in China comes from fossil fuels.
Environmental effects of acid rain and smog sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone – Peake et al p. 147.
4,000 people die each day due to complications – Peake et al p. 146.
Case study Dec 2016 Beijing issued red warning due env concerns danger to health schools closed External source used Phillips 2016.
MB Para. 4 (Approx 240 words) Increase in waste
Harm to environment Extra waste human and ecosystem health effected Peake et al p. 136.
Unregulated tips methane gas and hazardous run off Peake et al p. 156.
Evidence Chinese ministry apparent admission of cancer villages Peake et al p. 157.
Case study Landslide in 2015 when constructing rubbish fell from a hillside in Shenzhen. Buildings destroyed and 73 people died Peake at al p. 160.
MB Para. 5 (Approx 240 words) – Environmentalism
Chinese people (mainly middle class) are campaigning against destruction of their environment Peake et al p. 185.
Mentions Maslows hierarchy of needs McLeod (online) resource.
Environmental protection through attitude changes.
Example 2015 law in environmental protection giving environmental groups more powers to use the courts to bring companies to justice Peake et al p. 190.
Mention possible reason for change is awareness that environmental issues may slow down growth Peake et al p. 189.
Conclusion (Approx 10% of wordcount = 150 words)
Summarise growth in economy through governmental economic reforms.
Revisit idea of China having biggest middle class on planet.
Environmental harm through increased consumption.
Environmental protection through change in attitude of citizens and government (limited).
Closing statement deaths of 4,000 people per day due environmental issues.
Question 1 Essay
Discuss how the rise of the Chinese middle class has resulted in both environmental harm and the protection of the environment in China.
China is the fourth largest country in the world and home to over a billion citizens, of which more than three quarters (of urban dwellers) make up the biggest middle class on the planet (Fawssett, 2017, p.13). Whilst the country was previously seen as a classless society under the communist leadership by Mao, economic reforms led to rapid industrial growth and the greatest human migration known to man. Furthermore, urbanisation resulted in the mass movement of millions of people to the cities in search of jobs and greater wealth (Fawssett, 2017, p. 47). This essay will explore the relationship between this rapid development of the industrial sector and explore the environmental harm and protection caused by the creation of the middle-class, with class being defined as a system that groups people within society according to their social status or economic wealth (Fawssett, 2017, p. 51).
In order to understand the emergence of the middle class, a brief analysis of the history of the countrys economy and an understanding of some of the different drivers of economic growth help to explain the fundamental changes. Between 1978 and 2010 the Chinese economy grew at a tremendous rate of 10% per year (Fawssett, 2017, p. 13). A key force behind this single generational change has been the growth of the manufacturing sector, for which the Chinese is the worlds largest (Fawssett, 2017, p. 37). The Government encouraged this change by steering the economy away from low cost manufactures to services such as tourism and entertainment as well as higher value products (Fawssett, 2017, p.37), the effect of which saw around 680 million people being taken out of poverty. Whilst this statistic is undoubtably impressive, the last 35 years has also seen the country faced with a great deal of inequality, evidenced by the fact that in 2009 urban residents earned more than two times that of rural dwellers (Fawssett, 2017, p. 24). Conversely, it is this high-level of inequality which effectively leads to the development of class. In addition to economic reforms, urbanisation of Chinese citizens has led to the number of and size of cities expanding thus becoming a modern-day driver of economic growth with the expansion of industries and services being the stimulation for the increase in migrant labour. The opportunities that cities have created in providing wealth through work have contributed to the rising aspirations and ultimately the emergence of the middle class, a feature of which is greater levels of consumption.
The urbanisation of Chinese citizens and a change in their diet meant that more food had to be produced and transported over greater distances (Morris and Pearson, 2017, p. 95). A means of achieving greater yields was through the use of synthetic fertilisers to aid crop production (Morris and Pearson, 2017, p.96). This change of method in food production causes environmental harm in the form of water pollution thus impacting biodiversity with potential species loss. Eutrophication occurs when excess nutrients from fertilisers are leached into bodies of water resulting in excessive plant growth. Subsequent decay of this matter depletes the oxygen supply effecting fish and plant life (Morris and Pearson, 2017, p.99). An example was seen in Lake Chaohu located in one of Chinas fundamental grain regions. Research showed that fertilisers may have been the source of water pollution during an algal bloom in 2015 (Morris and Pearson, 2017, p. 99). Urbanisation has also resulted in greater food processing to prevent spoilage, such as by pickling. The effect of this is that more packaging is needed which creates an additional carbon footprint due to the extra manufacturing processes involved. A case study which reinforces the dietary change amongst the emerging middle class involved Jackie Chu telling of memories of growing up as a child in a rural area of China. She lived in a simple dwelling void of electricity or running water and ate a basic diet consisting mainly of porridge and a few vegetables. In stark contrast, and after migrating to Beijing, she talks of only cooking once a week thereby inferring an increase in the amount of meals eaten out and highlighting the additional food choices of the wealthier city dwellers (The Open University, 2017).
As consumption increases, so does the overall requirement for energy. Not only is China the worlds largest user of energy, but by 2014 the country was responsible for 25% of all energy consumption worldwide (Peake et al., 2017, p.144). The resulting harm to the environment is poor air quality, particularly in urbanised areas. Moreover, data suggests that during the peak periods of economic growth, carbon dioxide emissions rose by almost 5 ? percent (Peake et al., 2017, p.146). Compounding the environmental impacts of this increase in demand for energy is the fact that 90% of power supplied within China came from heavily polluting fossil fuels, mainly in the form of coal. This goes some way to explain why China currently uses about half of the total coal produced on the planet (Peake et al., 2017, p. 144). Environmental effects of burning coal include acid rain and smog which is a form of air pollution with the air containing dangerous particles such as nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide (Peake et al., 2017, p. 147). The magnitude of the effects of poor air quality is highlighted by the fact that a staggering 4,000 people are believed to die prematurely each day due to heart, lung and stroke complications (Peake et al., 2017, p. 146). Moreover, in December 2016, Beijing issued red alerts for a period of five days warning of severe air pollution. In addition to health and environmental concerns, daily life was affected to the extent that schools were closed, and people were told to stay indoors (Phillips, 2016).
In addition to air pollution, there is evidence to suggest that increased consumption has resulted in greater amounts of waste with human and ecosystem health being the main areas of concern (Peake et al., 2017, p. 136). Large amounts of waste can cause an increase in unregulated tips resulting in hazardous run off and methane gas being generated. Methane is not only flammable but also a harmful greenhouse gas (Peake et al., 2017, p. 157). The effects appear to have been acknowledged by the Chinese Environmental Ministry in 2013 when they discussed the existence of Cancer villages (Peake et al., 2017, p. 157). These are areas where the rates of cancer are higher than would normally be expected. The revelation was declared following years of campaigners voicing concern over cancer rates in villages near factories and of contaminated waterways. An example of the effects of increased waste occurred in 2015 when construction refuse that had been left on a hillside in Shenzhen caused a landside that not only destroyed buildings but resulted in the deaths of 73 people (Peake et al., 2017, p. 160).
Even though large numbers of Chinese citizens have benefited from economic growth, many are now pioneering against the destruction of their own environment (Peake et al., 2017, p. 185). The reason for this growth in environmentalism can perhaps be understood by considering Maslows hierarchy of needs (McLeod, 2018), suggesting that the basic needs of many urban dwellers are being met so citizens can concentrate on reviewing and improving the quality of their lives. The attitudinal change is an example of environmental protection occurring as a result of the rise of the middle class. This shift in attitude may have been supported by an awareness that the environmental impacts of the rapid economic growth in China may prove to be a barrier to continued sustainability of the growth achieved so far (Peake et al., 2017, p. 189). An example of the recent positive changes made can be seen in a new law pertaining to environmental protection which came in force in 2015. The additional powers given to non-governmental organisations to use the courts to make companies accountable is a means of deterring others from breaking environmental laws (Peake et al., 2017, p. 190).
The exponential growth in the Chinese economy was a derivative of Governmental economic reform which resulted in ? of Chinese citizens making up the biggest middle-class on the planet. Whilst there have undoubtably been benefits to the Chinese people through urbanisation and the rise of the middle class, there is a great deal of empirical evidence to suggest that environmental harm is occurring through the rapid consumption of resources. Effects such as water pollution from excess fertiliser or from air pollution primarily caused by coal power stations have had an effect on many Chinese people. It is apparent however that the middle class and the Chinese government are beginning to raise awareness of environmental issues and initiate change. Furthermore, there is limited data to suggest the overall success of these modern-day initiatives suggesting greater momentum and financial backing needs to be implemented to counteract the damaging environmental impacts which are causing an estimated 4,000 people to die prematurely each day.
Word count: 1, 496.
Fawssett, S. (2017) Part 1: Chinas economic growth and the rise of a middle class, U116 Block 5: China Rising, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
McLeod, S. (2018) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs [online] Available at (Accessed 18th August 2019).
Morris, D. and Pearson, C. (2017) Part 2: Feeding China, U116 Block 5: China Rising, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Peake, S., Pearson, C., Slater, R. and Warren, J. (2017) Part 3: China grows green? U116 Block 5: China Rising, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Phillips, T. (2016) Beijing smog: pollution red alert declared in China capital and 21 other cities [online] Available at (Accessed 18th August 2019).
The Open University (2017) Jackies story [Audio], U116 Environment: journeys through a changing world. Available at 14th August 2019).
I feel I have improved in my ability to interpret data from graphs and charts and not make assumptions based on the data given. The study note on page 23 of block 1 helped me in this area as well as useful feedback from my tutor. A further study skill I feel I have developed in is learning which sources of material can be useful in providing evidence when answering questions or writing essays. Linked to this I now feel more confident in referencing, particularly with the correct format of the full end of text reference.
I feel a current strength relates to my note taking. Previously I would highlight so much within the text and also re-write this verbatim. I am progressing by following the guidance provided and paraphrasing what I have read in my own words.
An area for which I previously found challenging and had mentioned in TMA01 relates to effective reading. I now pay particular attention to certain sections of the textbooks, and feel I am more reflective.
I would like to improve my time management and aim to stick as rigidly as I can (or perhaps be early) to the study timetable for the remainder of U116 and moving onto a new module.
My long-term goal remains unchanged which is to become a secondary school Geography teacher, however my short to medium term goals have altered slightly. I had previously planned to study S112 Science: Concepts and Practice in October this year following completion of U116. However, after having reviewed the introductory videos and material within the resource section within Student Home, I have decided that whilst I would like to complete an environmental based degree, I do not feel confident with the level of knowledge required for the science based module. For this reason, I have now registered on DD103 Investigating the Social World. In making this decision I completed a diagnostic quiz on the Open University website titled Are you ready for DD103?.
As a consequence of this module change, my degree pathway has also changed. I have now registered to study BA (Honours) Environmental Studies from my existing degree pathway which was BSc (Honours) Geography and Environmental Science. Having reviewed the requirements to study a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (Geography), the Environmental Studies degree appears to have sufficient subject specific credits to meet the application criteria.