Rural drinking water governance politics in China: Governmentality schemes and negotiations from below

Qinhong Xu*, Rutgerd Boelens, Gert Jan Veldwisch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines the politics of rural water governance in China through a governmentality lens and village water intervention case. The China Rural Drinking Water Safety Project (RDWSP) was an attempt to control water, while also serving as a tool of power to impel the rural population towards national development goals. The authors analyzed official documents and conducted interviews in a village in Shandong Province to investigate the RDWSP's rationale and practices, as well as how water access and management were negotiated by rural water users. The paper argues that (1) confronted with a decline in local governance capacity and in an effort to rectify the mistakes of the supply-driven, technocratic paradigm, the RDWSP attempted to integrate social, environmental and economic concerns but did not achieve that goal; (2) the decline in local governance capacity and people's pragmatic everyday strategies contributed to an individualized approach to solving water problems, reflected in people's disengagement from the government project and local participation, an effect that may sustain people's marginalization and exclusion from good-quality water access and management. Using the Chinese water project as an example, the paper contributes to the debate on state-induced water control versus civil society “counter-conduct” formed by daily interactions. Furthermore, it enriches the study of politics in general by presenting the state as a site of contested institutionalization and ongoing negotiations, confronted by everyday narratives and encounters with marginalized citizens that go far beyond and are far more complex than overt resistance or covert weapons of the weak.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102703
JournalPolitical Geography
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • China
  • Drinking water governance
  • Governmentality
  • Micro-political ecology
  • Rural development


Dive into the research topics of 'Rural drinking water governance politics in China: Governmentality schemes and negotiations from below'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this