Blue Skies Over Beijing: Economic Growth and the Environment in China by Matthew E. Kahn and Siqi Zheng [Book Review]


The media often portrays China—with some justification—as an environmental hellhole, created by a development program that prioritizes economic growth over everything else. Almost all of China’s major cities have severe air pollution problems. Heavy industry has contaminated large portions of China’s land: a recent government report estimated that over 80% of China’s sources of groundwater are now unfit for human consumption. China has been blamed for worsened air pollution in South Korea, Japan and even California. Finally, China is now the world’s largest carbon emitter in absolute terms.

Blue Skies Over Beijing is a more optimistic look at China’s environmental future. Professors Matthew Kahn of Princeton and Siqi Zheng of Tsinghua University argue that China’s continued economic development will eventually improve China’s environmental performance, rather than worsen it further. They argue that China’s growth has created an urban middle class that cares deeply about air pollution, water contamination, food safety and other environmental concerns and who is more willing to “sacrifice” greater income for a better quality of living.

This is an excerpt from a book review of Blue Skies Over Beijing published in the Asian Review of Books on May 17th, 2016. The review can be found here.