NOTES – Updates from China

Environmental Ethics in China in Recent Years

Environmental issues are one of the recent priorities for China. To tackle environmental problems arising from rapid economic growth, China has adopted a series of comprehensive measures since 2000, with marked achievements to its credit. In 2003 the National Coordination Committee on Climate Change was established, and China’s National Climate Change Program was formulated, outlining objectives, basic principles, and key areas of actions, as well as policies and measures to address climate change for the period up to 2010. In its 17th National Congress in 2007, the Communist Party of China explicitly declared that it is a basic policy both for the party and the government to construct an ecological civilization: an environment friendly, resource-saving, and human-nature harmonious society. The State Bureau of Environmental Protection was upgraded to the Ministry of Environmental Protection in 2008, which means that the institution of environmental management will get more power to enforce environmental protection laws and policies. These events are symbols, in some degrees, for the progress China has made in protecting the environment.

With Chinese society putting more attention on environmental issues and the Chinese government taking more measures to protect the environment, there has been a fast and steady development of environmental ethics since 2000. Many events contribute to public awareness of the environment and environmental ethics. The burst of SARS in 2002 led the public to reflect upon their dealing with animals. In May 2004, the Beijing Municipal Legal Affairs Office announced that it had drafted legislation on animal welfare, and this led to a hot debate about whether and in what sense animals have welfare and rights. Consequently, many universities established Laboratory Animal Ethics Committees. The 2004 Indonesian tsunami triggered another public debate in China in 2005 over whether humans should revere nature. The disasters caused by prolonged low temperatures, icy rain, and heavy snow in the southern part of China in January and February 2008 laid bare for many people the fragility of humans in nature. The Chinese more receptive for the development of environmental ethics in China.

Since 2000, Chinese scholars have made many achievements in the field of environmental ethics. First, the study of environmental ethics has become more comprehensive, systemic, and deep as compared to the previous period. Western environmental ethics are explored comprehensively, and many books, such as Rolston’s Environmental Ethics and Philosophy Gone Wild, have been translated into Chinese. Some scholars have begun to systematically advance, from the perspective of modern environmental ethics, Chinese traditional resources and the wisdom of environmental ethics. Many textbooks and original academic writings are being published.

Second, many universities such as Renmin University, Peking University, and Tsinghua University, and institutions such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, now offer master and doctoral degrees in environmental ethics. In 2003, the Environmental Philosophy Committee of the Chinese National Association of Natural Dialectics was established.

Third, academic activities of environmental ethics are rapidly increasing. There has been at least one annual, national conference on environmental ethics since 2004. The topics of these conferences cover the philosophical foundation of environmental ethics, environmental justice in China and international environmental justice, the intrinsic value of nature, the rights of animal and nature, sustainable development ethics, Chinese traditional resources for environmental ethics, the environmental responsibility of corporations and consumers, ecological or green civilization, etc. The “First International Conference on Environmental Ethics” was held at Nanjing University in 2004, at which professors Dale Jamieson, Eugene Hargrove, Andrew Brennan, and Freya Mathews attended. The “International Seminar for Environmental Ethics,” the aim of which was to train teacher who teach environmental ethics for college students, was held at the College for Environmental Management of China in 2006. Professors Hargrove, Brennan, Mathews, Norva Lo, and other Chinese scholars gave presentations in this seminar. Some Chinese scholars now go abroad to study environmental ethics and participate in international research programs.

Many thanks to Yang Tongjin, our ISEE representative from China, for this update! Yang Tongjin is a professor at the Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and is the vice president of the Chinese Society for Environmental Ethics. He can be reached at

See also Yang’s Chinese Environmetnal Philsophy & Ethics Bibliography.