Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Friday, January 26, 2007

Empirical study of environmental law enforcement in China available on line

In keeping with my policy of plugging good books that readers might not normally run across, I am reproducing a message from Professor Jianfu Chen of the La Trobe University School of Law:

I am very pleased to advise that a very high quality empirical study of environment law enforcement in China is now on-line, free of charge for downloading.

The book is a Phd thesis completed at the Faculty of Law, Leiden University, by Benjamin van Rooij. It is an in-depth study of environmental law enforcement on the basis of many years of fieldwork on the ground. It is also a very high quality socio-legal study with a coherent theoretical framework and evaluation. It is one of the best Phd theses I have read in the last many years. I am sure all of your will enjoy reading it and find it useful in your own study and research.

The thesis is available here; an abstract by the author is at the end of this post.

There's something about environmental law that seems to promote good work in Chinese law. One book I have always liked is Xiaoying Ma & Leonard Ortolano, Environmental Regulation in China: Institutions, Enforcement, and Compliance (2000). Although the authors set out to write a narrowly focused study of the workings of the wastewater discharge permit system, they ended up writing a book full of interesting and important observations about how the Chinese legal system works. (Click here for a review.)


Since the second half of the 1990s, the Chinese government has made an intensive effort to control ongoing natural resource losses. In order to curb the loss of arable land and the environmental destruction caused by air and water pollution, central level leadership amended existing legislation, making it stricter and more specific. In addition, the center organized enforcement campaigns to overcome local resistance against the implementation of the amended laws. In an effort to understand the effects these changes had at the local level, this book details how they influenced compliance with natural resource legislation at Lake Dianchi in Yunnan province. It does so based on a yearlong fieldwork in several villages around the lake during which local compliance and enforcement behavior was studied.

The study finds that China’s stricter legislation and stronger law enforcement have failed to improve compliance with pollution and arable land regulation, and thus curb ongoing natural resource losses, at Lake Dianchi. This is largely because they have failed to overcome the conflict of interests of dominant local elites and local worries about income and environmental protection. In addition, it finds that the political rationality and the top-down way in which legislative changes and campaigns were organized have exacerbated these problems. Finally, it resonates with existing insights from other countries that improved compliance may occur if a convergence is forged where stronger regulation finds support from local communities, NGOs and is incorporated by market forces.

The book combines local case studies with theories about lawmaking, compliance, and enforcement, derived from Western and non-Western contexts. Doing so, this book offers a unique body of empirical and theoretical knowledge for those interested in how law functions in China, as well as those interested in the workings of regulatory lawmaking, compliance, and enforcement in a comparative perspective.

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