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Bryan Tilt follows the dramatic economic transition and environmental degradation of contemporary rural China. Though it is believed that China's economy will become the largest in the world within the next twenty years, industrial pollution threatens both the health of China's citizens and the natural resources on which their economy depends. By conducting an in-depth, ethnographic study of a rural Chinese township, Tilt examines the impact of pollution on the lives and livelihoods of the township residents. Tilt's township is an industrial community located in the populous southwestern province of Sichuan. Three local factories - a zinc smelter; a coking plant; and a coal-washing plant - produce air and water pollution that far exceeds the standards set by China's Ministry of Environmental Protection and the World Health Organization.
Interviewing state and company officials, factory workers, farmers, and scientists, Tilt explains how residents cope with this pollution and how they view its effects on health and the growth of their economy. He strikes at the heart of the environmental values of the rural Chinese, exploring the intersection between civil society and environmental policy, and he weighs the tradeoffs between environmental protection and economic growth.
Tilt ultimately finds that residents are concerned about pollution, and he explores the various strategies they use to fight it. His study helps environmental scientists, social scientists, and other scholars and activists understand the complexities of sustainable development in a nation that is rapidly reinventing itself and changing the global economy.