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Notar, Isabella. From Two Wheels to Four Wheels: The History of Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Policy in China.

Notar, Isabella. From Two Wheels to Four Wheels: The History of Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Policy in China. Koln, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing AG & Co. KG, 2009. 291 pp.

China scholars who went to the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the early stages of Deng Xiaoping's reforms in the 1980s came away with lasting memories of the throngs of bicyclists who dominated the roadways. Along with a sewing machine, wristwatch and a radio, the bicycle was one of the "must have" items for a Chinese household.

Fast forward, and I do mean FAST, to 2010. Now the automobile has replaced the bicycle as the "must have" transportation mode in the PRC. In 2009, Chinese bought more cars than Americans. And this at a time when the world community is deeply concerned about the problems of "tailpipe emission" especially in rapidly industrializing states such as China. Although China may rightfully lay claim to leadership in "green energy technology," it has struggled to get control over air pollution. The world first questioned then marveled over the ease a strong centralized, some said authoritarian, Communist Party took draconian measures to clean up the air quality for the recent Beijing Olympics. In spite of this Herculean feat, dealing with the underlying air quality problems is not a matter that can be dealt with from China's central government agencies. Notar's book walks us through first, the trend away from "two wheels" and second, lays open the complex relationships between government and party central control measures and the leadership of city agencies that have the task of implementing the policies. This question of the working relationship between the central and regional/local governments is not only key to the issues related to air quality control, but to nearly every aspect of social and political change in the PRC.

Using a case studies method that focuses on Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing and Chongqing, Notar examines the participation that cities and municipalities have in formulating the central policy and then analyzes the practical and creative ways that local governments have used to go beyond standards set by China's State Environmental Protection Administration (now a ministry-level agency). While the Ministry of Environmental Protection sets national emission standards, local agencies are responsible for enforcement of the Air Pollution Control Law (APCL). The local Environmental Protection Bureau representative does not go directly to the factory to check the process. He is involved in a random inspection of newly produced vehicles. He goes to where the cars are sold and takes samples to an emission inspection station. (page. 82)

However, there is no mention in the APCL that identifies a government department in charge of investigating the production facility or specifying oversight before the vehicles are on the streets. This is one of several junctures where Notar's work points out the disconnect between central and local government authority. This is where her work is most original and provides readers with insights into the opaque world of China's bureaucracy. She not only dug into the mounds of statistics connected to auto pollution, she also conducted interviews with top ranking officials of Environmental Protection and Transportation Management at the municipal level in all four cities in an effort to better understand how they carried out their duties. Raising questions about factory oversight and responsiblites for issuing penalties for failure to comply with the APCL, the official in charge of Ambient Air Management Division of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau had to admit that there was no clear definition of duties of each department. Unlike stock answers such as "we are studying this problem" given to researchers in the past when they could get close enough to ask such a revealing question, this official expressed serious concern over the lack of transparency of the governing bodies responsible for ensuring ecological reliability in the auto manufacturing sector. "This is a major flaw in the vehicle emission management system," he lamented.

Initial interviews for this work were part of Notar's dissertation research; follow up interviews and additional survey work included in the Epilog helps to make this text very up to date. New materials help explain how Beijing exceeded the national standards to clean up the air for the Olympics and, as in earlier parts of the book, provide scholars insight into the local/central government nexus. In addition, the interviews with college students who are entering the car market as they graduate help tap into new attitudes of China's educated elite. Just how environmentally conscious are they; how does that consciousness effect how they view the importance of owing their own car?

From the founding of the PRC, China's leadership, especially Mao, worried that if too much authority were decentralized to local officials it would create conditions that would foster "Independent Kingdoms" [recall Gao Gang's purge in 1954] and unleash corruption that could destroy the prospects for creating socialism in China. Deng's reforms have increased the problem of official corruption, especially at the local level. Drawing back the curtain on the relationship between local/central authorities has been pivotal to the scholarship on the past 30 years of economic and political reforms in China. This book not only pulls back the curtain on that relationship but also shines a light on the growing impact of China's youth related to the rapidly growing automobile culture in the world's fastest growing economy.

Dorothea A.L. Martin

Appalachian State University
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Author:Martin, Dorothea A.L.
Publication:Journal of Third World Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2011
Words:901
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