So it can be dangerous. There are times when environmental activists do get locked up for supposedly threatening stability, or upsetting someone in power. It happens. At the same time, though, it’s also important to note that there are an awful lot more NGOs than there were 10 or 15 years ago. Civil society is trying to make a space. The authorities are very suspicious of civil society. So it’s difficult and there are definite tensions and there are definite limits, and I’d say that nobody quite knows where they are and it really seems to depend on the place and the person and the subject.
Are NGOs the best place change can come from?
Certainly NGOs are a big part of it, but I think the hope is in people, in ordinary individuals and people and how they live their lives and what their values are. Really that’s what I see as absolutely crucial in trying to find a solution to the fix I really believe we’re in at the moment. NGOs are a part of that because they are all about trying to change values—think more for the environment—and they do have a role in education and value changing and lifestyle changing.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Your chapter about Shanghai in particular comes off as quite scathing.
It shouldn’t be seen as a reflection just of Shanghai. I think what I was trying to show in that chapter is that the people you meet in Shanghai are very much closest to those in developed nations. And I mean Japan and the UK and the US. In a sense they’re most like us. But the really big problem is us. It’s the fact that people in developed nations consume way more than the planet can sustain. So the chapter’s trying to show, in the China context, that the people who are doing that the most are people in places like Shanghai, and big cities like Guangzhou and Chongqing and Beijing, who have quite an affluent model lifestyle. In a sense, what they do now is what the rest of China might well end up doing five or ten years from now. And that’s the future, at least as the government wants the future to be with that level of consumption and affluence.
‘When a Billion Chinese Jump’ is published by Faber and Faber and will be released on July 15, 2010.