As an environmental sociologist by both training and passion, my research is rooted in understanding the people in Chinese environmental governance. This includes those who wield environmental power, such as state officials, bureaucrats, urban and environmental planners, scholars, and state-affiliated scientists, as well as those who are on the receiving end of environmental policies and interventions of the Chinese state—the ordinary individuals whose lives are affected. By immersing myself in the lives and experiences of these diverse groups, my overarching objective is to offer a nuanced and humanized perspective on contemporary Chinese green governance. Through empirical research, I aim to shed light on the complexities and challenges of environmental politics, ultimately contributing to a deeply humanized reading of China’s environmental protection.

My ethnographic orientation enables a view from the inside of the state and more importantly leads to a humanistic understanding of state agents—not as mere proxies of the authoritarian state, but as a diverse group of real women and men with their own interests, beliefs, joys, and laments. This perspective helps steer clear of the tendency to view the Chinese state as a monolith, as I put forth an authentically colorful picture of the everyday exercise of power, attending to the real struggles, ambitions, and even regrets of state officials.

Moreover, I place emphasis on the non-environmental effects of environmental governance. This approach proves especially generative for critically investigating the Chinese state’s increasingly aggressive moves at home and overseas. Though it may seem counterintuitive at first glance to account for the non-environmental implications of environmental governance, a growing body of research has shown the entire suite of non-environmental effects that are directly and verifiably traceable to state-led environmental interventions by the Chinese state. In other words, state-led environmentalism has significant effects on civil society, social equity, regional development, geopolitics, and even transnational justice, all of which deserve more scholarly attention. Therefore, my methodological innovation opens the space for social scientists to better engage with environmental protection in China. Unlike environmental scientists trained in fields such as engineering and biology, whose research on China’s environmental entanglements is narrowly concerned with the environmental costs and benefits of policies, environmental social scientists have unique roles to play in articulating the many non-environmental spillover effects.

In recent years, I have been increasingly humbled by my slow and belated realization that so much of what I thought to be unique to China or the Chinese state may not be so unique after all. In collaborating with scholars who work in other regions and in reading works about places ranging from Egypt to Russia, I have had numerous déjà vu moments. I feel a strong imperative to undertake comparative research to de-nationalize my findings on the one hand, and on the other hand to better understand the planetary human condition that is at stake under the climate crisis. In other words, in order to fully realize the promise of humanism, I must move beyond methodological nationalism. I am not suggesting that the Chinese experience holds universal relevance; rather, I emphasize the importance of interpreting and reinterpreting evidence from China through a comparative lens. By doing so, we can filter out unwarranted undertones of Chinese exceptionalism and gain a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of environmental governance. This approach will not only enrich our understanding of China but also contribute to broader insights into the human condition in the face of planetary environmental challenges.  |  +01 608 616 0417  |