“Project Battle” or “Policy War”?: Protest, Advocacy, and the Outcomes of Environmental Contention in China

Phoebe Mengxiao Tang


Over the past decade, several environmental protests against hazardous projects have been mounted across China. Though extensive scholarship has been devoted to the outcomes of environmental contention, a significant distinction between local government’s one-off decision change regarding the specific project and long-term, locked-in policy change towards better governance has largely been overlooked. Meanwhile, environmental contention in authoritarian China has largely been studied in terms of disparate episodes, making systematic observation and effective comparison difficult. Using crisp-set qualitative comparative analysis (csQCA), this article investigates the effect of social contention on shaping environmental governance, analysing 20 influential cases of environmental protests in China from 2007 to 2014. It demonstrates that environmental contention efforts often yield different fruits in their “project battles” than in their “policy wars.” Moreover, this study argues that environmental protests necessitate ample effort of public policy from a variety of social agents with multifaceted mechanisms and strategies, highlighting the significance of the protest–advocacy linkage in extracting better governance from local states in authoritarian settings.

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