Workers clear algae caused by pollution from Dianchi lake
BBC Radio 4's Analysis: To go green is glorious will be broadcast on Thursday, 10th April 2008 at 20:30 and repeated on Sunday 6th April at 21.30 BST
It is rare for ordinary people in China to challenge officialdom.
But in one area, there are signs of change. Rapid industrialisation has scarred China's environment, with a quarter of drinking water now contaminated.
The result has been a new type of green politics that could change China's political fabric - and has implications for the whole world.
For this week's Analysis, Mukul Devichand visits Beijing to assess the significance of the new green activism there.
From small acts, like a campaign against disposable chopsticks in restaurants, to larger ones, like spontaneous street protests over a chemical factory in the city of Xiamen: can the green movement test the limits of the Chinese political freedom?
One study concluded there are over 2 million environmental groups in China, but it is hard to measure whether environmentalism there is really effective.
It is also far from certain how much dissent the Communist Party will tolerate.
Mukul meets activists who take their own chopsticks to restaurants
Mukul meets activists from several grassroots NGOs as well as those working for big international organisations like Greenpeace, and looks at the parameters of green politics in China.
Mukul suffers through awkward pauses in conversation when he mentions the word "democracy;" he also hears the frank views of environmentalists who speak about ways of working alongside China's sensitive leaders.
But he also finds that many China do not in fact blame their own government - instead they see the West as the real cause of environmental catastrophe.
Some of the country's biggest polluters are making products exported to consumers in countries like Britain, causing resentment and anger.