Pursuing Unity or Creating Disunity? An East–West Complementary Approach to Urban Controversies Related to the Right to Environment

Baldwin Wong*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In East Asia, the right to development has long occupied a central role in the making of laws and policies. However, the right to environment receives increasing public attention in recent years. What theories should be used to justify environmental protection when these two rights conflict with each other and cause urban controversies? This chapter discusses two theories, political liberalism and Confucianism, and argues that there should be a division of justificatory labor between these two theories in environmental policy-making and green citizenship education. I agree with some contemporary Confucians, such as Tu Wei Ming, that the Confucian idea of Tian-ren-he-yi (TRHY, the unity between the Heaven and the Humanity 天人合一) provides a non-anthropocentric vision of the world. Thus it can make a distinctive contribution to the environmental policy-making. Nevertheless, given the pluralistic environment in East Asia, progressive environmental policies that could only be justified by TRHY may invoke political opposition. I, there-fore, suggest a paradox that Confucians have to face when they appeal to TRHY in the public sphere—the pursuit of the unity between Heaven and Humanity will eventually result in disunity among citizens. To avoid this paradox, I argue that the better site for Confucians to introduce TRHY should be the private sphere, such as family, private school, and social discussion. Hence, in the environmental move-ments, Confucianism and political liberalism can be complementary to each other. Political liberalism justifies green laws and policies on grounds that could be publicly acceptable to all citizens in the public sphere, whereas Confucianism uses its cultural resources to educate and persuade people to become green citizens in the private sphere. I also use the controversy about building a new student hostel in the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2013 as an example to show how TRHY can mobilize people to reflect on the priority of the right to development.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRights and Urban Controversies in Hong Kong
Subtitle of host publicationFrom the Eastern and Western Perspectives
EditorsBetty Yung, Francis K. T. Mok, Baldwin Wong
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9789819912728
ISBN (Print)9789819912711, 9789819912742
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2023

Publication series

NameGovernance and Citizenship in Asia
PublisherSpringer Singapore
ISSN (Print)2365-6255
ISSN (Electronic)2365-6263

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Philosophy


Dive into the research topics of 'Pursuing Unity or Creating Disunity? An East–West Complementary Approach to Urban Controversies Related to the Right to Environment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this