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Reinterpreting Confucianism for Environmental Protection in China

November 2003

Citation: 33 ELR 10908

Issue: 11

Author: Christopher S. Van Wyk

I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there.

—Confucius1

The relationship between a group of people and the natural environment surrounding them differs from one culture to the next. On one end of the spectrum are the traditional tribal cultures of Indonesia and Nepal, where "the scale of the harvest or the size of a hunt are always negotiated between the tribal community and that natural world it inhabits"2; at the other are urban cultures where the only remnant of the natural world is a few trees scattered throughout the city and potted plants in homes. At least one scholar has argued that a symbiotic relationship with the natural world is necessary for humans to thrive.3 This Article will compare environmental protection in the United States and China with an eye toward cultural influences. In addition, it discusses some ways to enhance environmentalism in China.

Environmental ethics and a proper relationship to the natural world are increasingly important in China. The nation's environmental problems, like its economy, are growing quickly and have become a global concern.4 Even discounting the global impact of China's environmental problems, they are domestically significant due to the fact that approximately 1.3 billion people reside there.5

The author is a student at the Georgetown University Law Center and the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, class of 2004, and served as an English teacher in Changzhou, Jiangsu Province, China. During 2002-2003, he served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Georgetown International Environmental Law Review and is currently a legal intern at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He thanks his wife Laura and John Turner for their editing assistance and his family for their support during the writing process.

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