Against and For China’s Ecological Civilisation: Economising the Bios or “Life-ising” Transition?

  • David Tyfield (Author)
  • Fabricio Rodríguez (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


As the climate crisis intensifies, overlapping with the emergence of a lethal virus, and a planet poisoning economy, questions regarding thinking-and-doing transition become increasingly urgent. In this article, we explore the concept of “ecological civilisation” (EcoCiv) as a productive conjunction of Chinese concepts and ways of thinking that precede China’s encounter with Western modernity, and their re-reading and revision from a post-Western modernity lens. China’s role in any possible global transition to sustainability is unquestionably central – yet curiously neglected in transition studies. At the same time the official project of EcoCiv is in fact emerging as the very opposite of its proclaimed spirit. The article offers a reconceptualisation of shengtai wenming (ecological civilisation) as a paradigm shift to life-ising the economy (and society) instead of economising life. From this altered perspective, the article presents and discusses preliminary evidence of a largely neglected, but potentially significant, bottom-up, extra-state dynamism in contemporary China that entails both elements and principles for a genuinely ecological, trans-modern civilisation. It concludes with reflections on the resulting change in agenda, not least for transition studies, outlining a set of four principles of doing shengtai wenming – i.e. of life-ising transition.


Contributor or sponsoring agency
Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF; funding number 031B0021)
China, shengtai wenming, ecological civilisation, trans-modernity, transition, life-ising, sustainability