In China, environmental pollution generated via industrialization as well as profound changes in the social structure and the gradual maturation of the social hierarchy have jointly contributed to the Chinese people’s increased environmental consciousness and appeals for environmental justice (EJ). Because of the absence of an EJ theory and a lack of empirical research focused on China, this paper proposes a “Pyramid Model” for EJ research in China that includes the following three factors: basic demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, U.S.-based EJ principles, and Chinese characteristics. A nationwide pilot analysis of environmental inequality at the prefecture level is conducted by empirically examining the association between the demographic variables and socioeconomic status with sources of industrial pollution in China. The prefecture-based results are shown to be robust, and they indicate that areas inhabited by ethnic minorities and western regions of China carry disproportionate environmental burdens. However, a different picture for migrants is presented, revealing that Chinese migrants are not currently exposed to greater levels of industrial pollution. Relevant interpretations of these findings are provided. The results also show that environmental inequality associated with income level, which is observed in the U.S., does not occur in China.
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