Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

First Advisor

Erik Esselstrom

Second Advisor

Robert Bartlett

Third Advisor

Matthew Carlson


history, Mao Zedong, environmental policy, China, mass communication


The contemporary mainstream media offers passionate praise for China’s recent improvements regarding renewable energy generation and sustainability. However, such articles make deliberate comparisons of these achievements to the state of China less than a decade ago, with the nation’s dense smog posing a public health crisis for the Chinese people. In this thesis, I step back into history to examine the environmental policy message promoted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Mao Zedong to better understand China’s swift turnaround and present-day environmental policy. The existing body of literature provides ample evidence of the land-use change and pollution that arose in the Maoist Era, though little attention is paid to Mao’s environmental policy message that led to said environmental degradation. Using People’s Daily newspaper articles and propaganda posters, I uncover clues that Mao crafted an environmental policy message of utopian urgency and a conflict that pitted man against the fundamental functions of the environment. Additionally, I argue that Mao’s environmental policy was important for the broader goals of the CCP as it was used to exert political control over China’s citizens. Although many facets of Mao’s environmental policy were anthropocentric, I also argue that Chinese print and visual media began to promote norms of environmental conservation in the 1960s and 1970s. Finally, I conclude with a discussion of how these emerging norms of conservation as well as Mao’s anthropocentric attitudes towards nature have contributed to the contradictory environmental policy outcomes we see from China today.