Digital Media, Cycles of Contention, and Urban Governance in China: Anti-PX Protests as an Example of the Sustainability of Environmental Activism

Part of the ARI - Springer Asia Series book series (ARI, volume 7)


Since the emergence of the environmental crisis in China in the early 1990s, environmental activism has emerged as a key type of digital activism as well as a major challenge to urban governance. While scholars have studied issues arising from digital activism in general and environmental activism in particular, most have failed to scrutinize possible interconnections among different instances of digitally mediated political contention. To advance such an understanding, this chapter employs the concept of “cycles of contention” – a concept helpful for investigating recurrent mechanism of protest in contemporary society. The study takes seven anti-petrochemical (anti-PX) environmental protests in China between 2007 and 2014 as cases. During the time, 54 in-depth interviews were conducted. The study finds that coverage in the traditional media, on the one hand, served to legitimize and to modularize these anti-PX protests, thereby facilitating the adoption of digital media as part of the repertoire of contention and helping to make political contention sustainable over the long run. The use of digital media, on the other hand, enabled protestors to diffuse contention widely and quickly and to learn from past experiences. The chapter concludes that, as a new challenge to urban governance, digitally mediated environmental activism is shaped by the specific communication ecology in China.


Digital media Political activism Cycles of contention Repertoire of contention Environmental activism Urban governance Anti-PX protests China 



The author deeply appreciates comments from Klaus Bruhn Jensen, Jørgen Delman, Mattias Burell, Oscar Almén, and Ran Wei. This study has been funded by grants from the Carlsberg Foundation (CF14–0385), S. C. Van Fonden (reference numbers 1267, 1503), and Zhejiang Provincial Philosophy & Social Science Research Base (15JDCB05YB).


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Media, Cognition and Communication & Centre for Communication and ComputingUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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