What Does Ecological Marxism Mean for China? Questions and Challenges for John Bellamy Foster

By Wang, Zhihe; Fan, Meijun et al. | Monthly Review, February 2013 | Go to article overview

What Does Ecological Marxism Mean for China? Questions and Challenges for John Bellamy Foster


Wang, Zhihe, Fan, Meijun, Dong, Hui, Sun, Dezhong, Li, Lichun, Monthly Review


Zhihe Wang's article "Ecological Marxism in China," which appeared in the February 2012 Monthly Review, demonstrated that Chinese interest in ecological Marxism has grown rapidly over the past two decades.1 Ecological Marxism is regarded by some scholars as "the most important resource for developing Chinese Marxist philosophy in the new age."2 The practical, political, and theoretical reasons for its success include: pressing environmental issues facing China; the government's call for ecological civilization; the many characteristics that ecological Marxism shares with traditional Chinese Marxism; and the support it has provided for China's environmental movement.3

Numerous works by Western scholars, including Ben Agger, John Bellamy Foster, William Leiss, and James O'Connor, have recently been translated into Chinese. Interest in ecological Marxism in China also overlaps with interest in ecological work associated with the "constructive postmodernist" tradition, evolving out of Alfred North Whitehead's work. The best-known practitioners of constructive postmodernism are John B. Cobb and David R. Griffin; the former is the author (with Herman Daly) of For the Common Good, as well as many other works. As of 2010, nine books, almost six hundred articles, seventy-five master's theses, and fifteen dissertations have been written in China on ecological Marxism.

The thinker who initially ignited interest in ecological Marxism in China was James O'Connor, founding editor of Capitalism, Nature, Soaalism and author of Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism. In comparison, John Bellamy Foster's ecological Marxism was introduced relatively late. But recently it has drawn the greatest attention from Chinese Marxist scholars; as they say, "the latecomers surpass the old timers." Our purpose here is to elicit a response from Foster on some of these developments in Chinese thought. For this reason we are concentrating on criticisms of his work, even though the response to Foster's ecological Marxism in China has been overwhelmingly positive.

The Reception of Foster's Ecological Marxism in China

Prior to 2006 few Chinese Marxist scholars noticed Foster's work; one exception was Liu Rensheng's article "Foster's Studies on Marx's Ecological Thought," which was published in 2004. Widespread research on Foster started after 2006 when two of his books were translated and published: Ecology against Capitalism (translated by Geng Jianxin and Song Xingwu and published by Shanghai Translation Press in 2006) and Marx's Ecology (translated by Liu Rensheng and Xiao Feng, and published by Higher Education Press in 2006). In 2008, the first book on Foster's ecological Marxism, Ecological Critique - A Study of Foster's Ecological Marxist Thought by Guo Jianren, a young scholar at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, was published by The People Press, an important publisher in China. This book was based on Guo's dissertation; it focused primarily on Foster's ecological Marxism itself, and secondarily compared his thought to O'Connor and Alfred Schmidt. Another book on Foster, Critique, Construction, and Inspiration: A Study of Foster's Ecological Marxist Thought by Kang Ruihua (a professor at the Liaoning Party School) and her colleagues, was published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Publishing House in 2011. Their work was supported by the National Social Science Foundation, and has a similar focus to Guo's, with the addition of a chapter exploring the relevance of Foster's work to China's particular version of socialism.

In addition to these two books, 175 articles related to Foster have appeared.4 Some of these that directly discuss Foster's work include: "A Theoretical Analysis of Foster's Ecological Marxism" by Wang Yuchen (2006); "Ecological Civilization and Ecological Revolution" by Kang Ruihua (2007); "J. B. Foster's Ecological Critique of Capitalism" by Xie Baojun and Li Jianjun (2008); "The Three Dimensions of Foster's Ecological Marxism" by Yu Jinlong (2009); "Foster's Ecological Ethics and its Inspirations" by Zhang Lemin (2010); "The Inspirations Foster's Ecological Marxism Offers to Us" by Chen Xueming (2011); and "On Foster's Reconstruction of Marx's Metabolic Rift Theory" by Du Xiujuan (2012). …

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