Contagious China


NIMBY Movements in China

 I have examined the interaction between the media and social movements in cases of environmental activism in China, where a number of Nimby, or “not in my backyard”, campaigns have emerged in recent years. Rapid economic development and urbanisation has brought this new wave of social activism to China as people try to protect their neighbourhood from projects they see as negative or hazardous. The media often frame these movements along with the rising awareness of environmentalism in China. However, this overlooks the inherent moral dilemma of a Nimby campaign—conflict between the common good and individual rights, and modernisation versus justice. Environmentalism per se also fails to explain why some Nimby movements succeed while others fail when all have a frame of environmentalism. What factors shape the results of Nimby movements? Why and how can successful Nimby movements solve or bypass the inherent moral dilemma to mobilise the support of the general public? To answer these questions, we conducted a comparative study on two related Nimby protests in neighbouring areas. We argued that the success of a movement is rooted in the media–movement dynamics of two related social processes. On the one hand, middle-class activists borrowed a moral advantage from villagers through the media to secure public support. On the other hand, the middle class staged protests as a media performance and constructed multiple frames in addition to environmentalism. Both processes together allowed activists to move beyond Nimbyism and to ensure the survival of their claims within the authoritarian state, which led to the success of the middle-class protest and the failure of the villagers (Xie and Lin, 2016).