The Chongqing Two Rivers Center: An Environmental Watchdog

China Development Brief, No.55 (Fall 2012)

中文 English

In recent years cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have frequently enacted new policies and led discussion on public topics such as social construction and social management innovation. In contrast, the industrial city of Chongqing in the southwestern corner of the country has been a backwater for civil society organizations in China. For a long time Chongqing’s government has actively promoted economic development, but social construction has not been on the government agenda and ignored by observers. Even though the face of the city has changed dramatically since it became a province-level municipality, spiritual concerns and social awareness of public issues remains weak.

According to Pu Qijun, the director of the Institute of Sociology of the Chongqing Academy of Social Sciences (重庆社科院社会学所), social construction in Chongqing lags behind the rest of the nation. This could be due to its geographic position in the hinterlands and its weak economic base. But Chongqing’s traditional state-led development model, its indifference to civil society organizations and the overall lack of civic awareness are all major factors hindering the development of NGOs and the civil society in Chongqing. Pu calculates that the number of NGOs per 10,000 inhabitants is 3.14, which places it in 18th position nationwide, below the national average of 3.28. Among the 10 western provinces it ranks 7th. The promotion of social reform and civil society in Chongqing has clearly not kept up with the progress it has shown in economic reform.1

Nevertheless, there has been some development of grassroots organizations, mainly consisting of volunteer charity organizations and community development organizations. One of these is the Chongqing Two Rivers Voluntary Services Center (重庆两江志愿服务发展中心, hereafter referred to as the Two Rivers Center), an environmental grass-roots organization which has evolved quite quickly.

Through the initiative of the Two Rivers Center, a sustainable and effective tripartite interaction has been established between the NGO, the local Environmental Protection Bureau and polluting companies. Browsing through its monthly newsletter, one can see how the Center with its limited resources gathers information on pollution, follows trends and works towards the resolution of problems. It’s uniqueness lies in its continuous interaction with the government. It gathers evidence on pollution that it has collected to push the government’s environmental protection agencies to fulfill their obligations. It also participates in the public comment period of a project’s environmental impact assessment, raising concerns and submitting them to the government for clarification.

As an organization that attaches importance to professional capacity building, the Two Rivers Center has developed a strategy, philosophy and working procedures for combating pollution. Perhaps it is precisely because of its relatively effective approach and grasp of the nuances that it can enter into sensitive situations without getting into trouble.

The Center’s effectiveness comes from using the administrative power of the Environmental Protection Bureau, in accordance with the law. Since the government enforces the law, and should be responsible for pollution control, it has to be forced to fulfill these obligations. On the topic of its relationship with the Environmental Protection Bureau, the Center does not call itself an “advisor”, “assistant” or “partner” but rather talks of “interacting” with the bureau. This “interaction” means that it neither has to position itself as an opponent nor as a partner of the bureau, but can develop measures and strategies to make recommendations to it. In line with changing circumstances, its main goal is to be an independent third party that encourages the government to carry out its duties in accordance with the law, and environmental authorities to understand and respond to its work. Currently the government-led public sphere does not lack “advisors and supporters” but it does lack independent third parties. This is true for the Environmental Protection Bureau as well as for the farsighted Civilization Office (文明办) of the Chongqing city government which had the courage to assume the role of the Two Rivers Center’s professional supervising unit.2 Facing numerous complex environmental issues, the Center has moved beyond taking on one or two cases, to carrying out more regular and effective civil society engagement in the environmental protection field.

Secondly, the Center considers the accumulation of professional competence as very important, using data collection and research to improve the quality of its recommendations. Research, monitoring, legal analysis, and environmental impact assessments require professional competences. As such, the Two Rivers Center takes staffing as its starting point for strengthening its capacity. Only through these means can their suggestions be convincing and taken seriously by the government.

Of course, environmental advocacy is not a purely technical job. In order to have an impact on society by putting pressure on the government to assume its responsibility and on companies to restrain themselves and to improve their environmental performance, an effective strategy is necessary. The measures of the Two Rivers Center include public participation in environmental impact assessments, provisions for public information disclosure, sample collection and testing, disseminating information, increasing the degree of openness, using the media and the internet and paying visits to the director of the local Environmental Protection Bureau. In contrast to regions where the media is strong and environmental NGOs can exert pressure through media exposure, the Center has to rely on “interaction” with the Environmental Protection Bureau to achieve its mission.

Pursuing a strategy of interacting with the government seems to differentiate this next generation environmental organization from others. Working under high pressure and making sacrifices, environmental organizations generally exhibit a pessimistic attitude. Instead the Two Rivers Center sees environmental protection as a profession and tries to use existing legal procedures to its advantage. It has been effective in ‘managing’ conflicts between the organization and the government or polluting companies, and even sometimes takes the expression of anger in the quarrel with the environmental bureau officials as a strategy to push ahead. Through regular institutionalized interaction with the Environmental Protection Bureau, it has become an important social force that the Bureau must pay attention to, and sometimes uses to deflect pressure from polluting enterprises.

If finding pollution sources and dealing with them would solely lie in the hands of the few professionals at the Two Rivers Center it would be very difficult to keep up the work. The Center thus relies on a team of local residents and volunteers or “River Monitors”( “河流守望者”). The Center provides financial assistance, research on the pollution sources and interactive trainings for the River Monitor volunteers who mainly consist of university students. The trainings take place along riverbanks and include practical work like testing samples. Environmental education and active participation are thus brought together in a way that effectively utilizes resources.

From a legal perspective, other unregistered grassroots organizations are at a disadvantage compared with the Two Rivers Center which is “affiliated” with the Chongqing Civilization Office (文明办). The fact that its supervising unit is the bold and farsighted Chongqing Civilization Office is something that cannot be duplicated, but there are lessons to be learned from its working mode and strategy. Being “registered” as the Two Rivers Center obviously gives it more legal space and confidence, but even in its earlier “illegal” phase, the organization had already begun to interact beneficially with the government.

If you look beyond this case study and think about the relationship between state and society in general, the Two Rivers Center and similar environmental organizations and their practice of working together with the government to combat pollution, constitute an indispensible part of what “social construction” means.3 From the observations described in Pu Qijun’s “Report on the Development of Civil Society Organizations in Chongqing”, we can get several insights.

Pu points out that “civil society organizations have long not received the recognition they deserve. The way government and society see NGOs now can be compared to how private enterprises were seen at the beginning of the era of reform and opening up: as a “useful supplement filling the gaps.” Therefore when vigorously implementing social construction and management innovation in the future, properly defining the relationship between government and civil society organizations is very important. In the social sphere the leading role of NGOs has to be recognized and an equal, fair and cooperative relationship between government and civil society organizations has to be firmly established.” In his concluding remarks Pu suggests that the orientation towards public interest and public welfare among NGOs should be strengthened, so all types of civil society organizations can really represent the interests of the people and the public, and in this way ensure that they do not become the spokesperson for any donor or subservient to those in positions of power4.

Recent social conflicts in the field of the environment such as events in Shifang in Sichuan province and Qidong in Jiangsu province can be seen as a microcosm of China’s social transformation. “The Path Towards the Reconstruction of Society, ” a 2010 report produced by the Social Development Research Group in Tsinghua University’s Department of Sociology, sees the restriction of state power as an immediate response to the crisis of social transformation in China: “At the historical juncture of China’s social transformation, facing the challenges of growing complexities in economic and social life and a decline in social order, the traditional fear of society has to be overcome. Instead society has to be transformed with courage and boldness, power should be restricted, governance capabilities enhanced, and a pluralistic social governance model established. Therefore creating a system that strikes a balance between the government, economy and society should be our objective and urgent task.

The report also points out that “the basis for social construction lies in fostering society as the main actor, especially by fostering the self-organization of social life. “Social construction” should not be led by the authorities, and should neither be dictated by the authorities nor by the market. Social construction is more than just promoting the development of all kinds of social undertakings, strengthening social management and setting up social communities; it also means to make full use of society’s strength and thereby setting up an autonomous civil society and creating an active society. The goal of social construction lies in restricting power, managing social capital and curbing social disorder.5

Even though the economy is strongly government-led with social construction only playing a marginal role in Chongqing, civil society organizations are slowly developing, with most carrying out charity and volunteer work. Under these circumstances, the existence and dynamics of advocacy organizations such as the Two Rivers Center, functioning as a watchdog for environmental and societal interests, are attracting greater attention.


  1. Pu Qijun, Report on the Development of Civil Society Organizations in Chongqing (A). In: Huang Xiaoyong. Civil Society Organisations Blue Book: China NGO Report (2011-2012) (C). Social Science Documentation Publishing House, March 2012. 

  2. Editor’s Note: The Civilization Office is an organization within the Communist Party system. In order to register as a “social organization” with the local Civil Affairs bureau, the Center needs to find a party or state agency willing to be its professional supervisory unit and to assume responsibility for the Center’s work. Many grassroots NGOs in China are unable to register because they are unable to find a supervising unit willing to assume that responsibility. 

  3. Editor’s Note: The term “social construction” (shehui jianshe) is a very broad term used by government to describe a wide range of social activity, including the construction of a civil society. 

  4. Pu Qijun. Report on the Development of Civil Society Organizations in Chongqing (A). In: Huang Xiaoyong. Civil Society Organisations Blue Book: China NGO Report (2011-2012) (C). Social Science Documentation Publishing House, March 2012. 

  5. Tsinghua University, Department of Sociology, Social Development Research Group, The Path Towards the Reconstruction of Society [J]. In: “Strategy and Management”, No. 9/10, 2010. 

观察:做环境和公众利益的看门狗

付涛 中国发展简报2012年秋季刊

近年来,北京、上海、广州等地在社会建设、社会管理创新方面频出新政并引领公共话题,地处西南一隅的传统工业城市重庆却是社会组织发育的洼地。长期以来,重庆在经济建设领域是政府强势主导,但将社会建设置于政府议程之外,在平淡中不为外界关注。 虽然直辖之后,城市外在形态有很大改变,但精神内核和关注公共议题的社会意识仍然相对薄弱。

据重庆社科院社会学所所长蒲奇军分析,总体而言,社会建设仍是重庆发展的短板,在全国范围横向比较相对滞后。 尽管有深处内陆欠发达地区、发展基础薄弱等客观原因,但传统的政府主导发展模式、对民间组织正向作用的漠视以及普遍性的公民意识欠缺等,无疑都是阻碍重庆民间组织发展和公民社会成长的重要因素。 蒲奇军按照2010年每万人拥有民间组织的数量计算,重庆市万人民间组织数为3.14个,在全国排第18位,低于全国3.28个的平均水平。 在西部十省区中排第7位。 重庆在社会改革和公民社会培育上有所滞后,与其在经济领域强劲的改革势头和开放局面不相匹配。 [1]

当然,以慈善义工志愿服务和社区发展组织为主体,重庆的草根组织近年来还是有所发展。 “重庆两江志愿服务发展中心”(以下简称“两江中心”),是其中一家成长较快的草根环保组织。 在两江中心的触动下,两江中心、与环保局、污染企业形成了持续有效的三方良性互动 。 浏 览两江中心通过机构月度简报连续披露的监督案例,其中的细节一环紧扣一环,可以看到他们在有限的人力下如何发现污染、动态跟踪并撬动问题向解决的方向移 动,其特点是常态性地与政府互动,对污染问题,随时随地通过调查证据,敦促政府环保部门履行执法职责;介入公示期的项目环评,进行专业解读,找到不合规的 疑点提交政府要求整改。

两江中心作为一个重视提升专业能力建设的团队,逐步形成了介入污染控制的基本策略、工作思路和工作流程。 可能正是由于较为有效的工作方式,以及对工作技巧和节奏的把握,使其在污染的硝烟四起、警报声声中进入满负荷状态,但并不焦头烂额。

首先,通过撬动环保部门的行政力量,让其依法作为,起到了事半功倍的效果。 毕竟政府力量作为秩序和规则维护者,作为污染控制的核心角色,必须使其发挥正向作用。 在与环保局的关系上,两江中心没有将自己定位为“政府的参谋和助手”或者“合作伙伴”,而是“互动”。 互动的含义,就是不将对立或者合作立场化,仅仅将它们作为倡导的一种手段和策略,因时因地因问题动态地变化,其目标是作为独立第三方进行监督,推动政府依法行政,履行职责,反倒更能得到环保部门的理解和响应。 对目前政府主导下的社会领域而言,“参谋和助手”并不缺乏,缺的正是独立第三方。 这对重庆环保局是如此,对眼光独到、勇于担当两江中心业务主管部门的重庆市文明办也是如此。 面对复杂多样的环境问题,两江中心将民间参与环保变成一种工作常态并行之有效,超越了做一两个案例进行示范的阶段。

其次,是重视积累专业能力,以数据采集和调研为基础,提高发声的质量。 调研、监测查证、法律条款的运用和环评报告的解读,都需要专业能力,两江中心正从人员配置为起点逐步建构加强。 只有这样,做出的建议才有说服力,才能成为被政府重视的“互动”方。

当然,环境倡导也毕竟不是纯粹的技术工种,它的社会效果,要以推动政府履责,推动企业约束和改进自己的环境行为表现为衡量指标,需要积极有效的策略推动来支撑。 环评公众参与办法、信息公开条例、样本采集与检测,信息的发布和公开化程度,媒体和互联网,局长接待日,都成为两江中心综合运用的手段。 与媒体资源丰富地区的环保同行更多地依靠媒体曝光施压不同,这家在地机构以推动政府提高执法效率为策略,以促成在地污染问题的解决为目标,更多地依靠与环保局的互动来实现。

放弃悲情,甚至将吵架、拍桌子当成一种策略,使这家新生代环保组织看上去出现了一些不同以往的特点。 在人们的印象中,环保组织在高压和逼仄的环境下,一定是处于悲情坚守,付出牺牲的代价的状态,但两江中心更希望把环保当成一种职业,他们将与利益相关者的冲突纳入管理,也试图利用现有法律的程序和依据扩大战果。 面对环境问题产生包括愤怒在内的真实情绪,也被自己当成一种策略来化解。 通过与环保局重复进行的程序性的持续互动,最终成为环保局必须重视的社会主体力量,甚至将其用于化解来自污染企业的反弹压力。

对污染源的发现和处置应对,如果仅仅靠两江中心几个人、几双眼睛,恐怕难以为继。 两江中心背后还通过社区居民和志愿者团队——“河流守望者”延伸自己的触角。 两江中心对以大学生团队为主的“河流守望者”志愿者提供资助,开展污染源调查,实施参与式培训,把课堂放到河流旁边、污染源头,培训过程就是监测过程,将环境教育与实际的行动干预相结合,巧妙地整合了资源。

在法律上的合法性方面,相比两江中心“背靠”重庆市文明办这颗大树带来的底气,未能正式注册的草根组织,确实无法相提并论。 以兼具魄力和眼光的重庆市文明办为主管部门,这一点确实无法复制,但按向春的话来说,除此之外的其他工作模式和策略是可以借鉴复制的。 注册为两江中心,固然给这家环保组织更合法的空间和底气,但在注册之前的“非法”阶段,这家机构其实早已尝试着与政府建立这样的互动关系并有所收获。

如果跳出个案,在更高的层面上思考国家与社会的关系,两江中心和众多环保组织的独立价值,与政府互动遏制污染的实践,无疑应该是社会建设的题中应有之义。 从重庆社科院社会学研究所所长蒲奇军在《重庆民间组织发展报告》一文中所做的观察,我们可以得到启发。

蒲 指出:“民间组织在社会领域中的主体地位始终没有得到应有的认可。政府及社会对民间组织积极作用的评价,亦如改革开放之初对非公企业的评价一样,囿于'拾 遗补缺'、'有益补充'这样的计划体制思维中。因此,在未来大力推动社会建设与管理创新中,准确定位政府与民间组织的关系至关重要。在社会领域,要明确承 认民间组织的主体地位,确立政府与民间组织间平等公平、合作共治的关系。”他在结语中提出建议,要进一步强化民间组织为民请命、为民服务的公益性,使各类 民间组织真正成为民众利益和公共利益的代表,而不能成为任何捐资者的代言人或权力的附庸。 [2]

包括近期发生的四川什邡和江苏启东事件在内,环保领域的社会冲突已成为中国社会转型冲突的一个缩影。 清 华大学课题组2010年完成并发表的《走向社会重建之路》报告,把制约国家权力,作为当下应对中国社会转型危机的关键:“在中国社会转型的历史关头,面对 经济社会生活复杂化提出的挑战,面对社会失序的严峻态势,去除传统的恐惧社会的思维定势,以勇气和魄力重建社会,形成对权力的有效制约,并在此基础上增强 权力的治理能力和形成多元化的社会治理模式,造就一个政治、经济与社会相互制衡的结构体系,应当成为我们的明确目标和紧迫任务。”

该 报告还指出:“社会建设根本在于社会主体性的培育,尤其是自组织的社会生活的培育。社会建设不应当是权力主导的过程,不是权力或市场对社会的占领;也不能 仅仅归结为促进各种社会事业的发展、社会管理机构的强化和社区建设的实施;而是充分发挥社会自身的主体性,即自治意义上的公民社会和能动社会的建设。社会 建设的目标,是要制约权力、驾驭资本、遏止社会失序。” [3]

在政府强势主导经济,社会建设处于边缘地带,但以慈善义工类组织为主体的社会组织渐次发育的重庆,作为环境和公众利益的看门狗,两江中心等倡导类环保组织的存在与活跃引人关注。 ________________________________________ [1]蒲奇军.重庆民间组织发展报告[A].黄晓勇. 民间组织蓝皮书:中国民间组织报告(2011-2012) [C].社科文献出版社,2012.03 [2]蒲奇军.重庆民间组织发展报告[A].黄晓勇. 民间组织蓝皮书:中国民间组织报告(2011-2012) [C].社科文献出版社,2012.03 [3]清华大学社会学系社会发展研究课题组,走向社会重建之路,[J].《战略与管理》,2010年第9/10期合编本,2010-11-19

Fu Tao is CDB's Senior Researcher

Translated by Andreas Dittrich

Reviewed by Patrick Zhang

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