China: Its Environment and History

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Overview

This deeply informed and beautifully written book provides a comprehensive and comprehensible history of China from prehistory to the present. Focusing on the interaction of humans and their environment, Robert B. Marks traces changes in the physical and cultural world that is home to a quarter of humankind. Through both word and image, this work illuminates the chaos and paradox inherent in China’s environmental narrative, demonstrating how historically sustainable practices can, in fact, be profoundly ecologically unsound. The author also reevaluates China’s traditional “heroic” storyline, highlighting the marginalization of nature that followed the spread of Chinese civilization while examining the development of a distinctly Chinese way of relating to and altering the environment. Unmatched in his ability to synthesize a complex subject clearly and cogently, Marks has written an accessible yet nuanced history for any reader interested in China, past or present. Indeed he argues successfully that all of humanity has a stake in China’s environmental future.
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Editorial Reviews

CHOICE
Based in part on the author's earlier, more technical book, Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China (1997), this new volume presents for a more general audience the parallel story lines of episodic and long-term ecological damage and the equally long-term success of the Chinese agricultural system. Marks (Whittier College) clearly highlights the symbiotic relationship between family farming and the strategic interests of the bureaucratic state since the Qin and Han empires, and stresses the interactive role of 'Chinese' and 'non-Chinese' in 'China's' agricultural and ecological change. He places the People's Republic of China at the end of an environmental saga in four premodern stages: the growth of millet-based farming communities in the Neolithic period; the rise of the imperial state from 1000 BCE to 300 CE; the rise of high-yielding wet-rice agriculture from 300 to 1300 CE; and the increasingly unsustainable population growth of the late empire from 1300 to 1800. Marks concludes with the modern era, focusing on the PRC's huge organizational capacity to industrialize the Chinese economy. He very capably sifts through the immense secondary literature on Chinese social, political, economic, and environmental history to present a very useful synopsis of the state of the field. Summing Up: Recommended. Most levels/libraries.
Choice
Based in part on the author's earlier, more technical book, Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China (1997), this new volume presents for a more general audience the parallel story lines of episodic and long-term ecological damage and the equally long-term success of the Chinese agricultural system. Marks (Whittier College) clearly highlights the symbiotic relationship between family farming and the strategic interests of the bureaucratic state since the Qin and Han empires, and stresses the interactive role of 'Chinese' and 'non-Chinese' in 'China's' agricultural and ecological change. He places the People's Republic of China at the end of an environmental saga in four premodern stages: the growth of millet-based farming communities in the Neolithic period; the rise of the imperial state from 1000 BCE to 300 CE; the rise of high-yielding wet-rice agriculture from 300 to 1300 CE; and the increasingly unsustainable population growth of the late empire from 1300 to 1800. Marks concludes with the modern era, focusing on the PRC's huge organizational capacity to industrialize the Chinese economy. He very capably sifts through the immense secondary literature on Chinese social, political, economic, and environmental history to present a very useful synopsis of the state of the field. Summing Up: Recommended. Most levels/libraries.
J. Donald Hughes
This is the first book to cover the Chinese people’s relationship to nature and the environment throughout their history, from Peking man to the present. It is a joy to read, clear and accessible to anyone with or without background in Chinese history. Marks gives the big picture of the use and depletion of resources, highlighted by many revealing details. His scholarship and experience make him a dependable guide to China’s fascinating ecological past and its present impact on the world environment, in which China announces the importance of environmental improvement while it is the world’s leading consumer of energy and largest source of carbon pollution.
J. R. McNeill
In this book, Marks does what no scholar has done before: provide a comprehensive environmental history of China from the most ancient times up to the 21st century. The book is accessibly written, clearly organized, and utterly indispensable for anyone hoping to make sense of the tumultuous relationships between society, culture, and nature in China.
Kenneth Pomeranz
This is a book for just about anybody: clear enough for a general reader with little background and nuanced enough to please any specialist. Marks explains the remarkable ways in which millennia of human activity—sometimes careful, sometimes careless—have transformed China’s landscapes and how the feedback of those changes has affected human affairs. He also shows that, though modern China has almost no 'natural' areas left, it has nonetheless remained a large and important reservoir of eco-diversity. In our own era, when Chinese production and consumption are also shaping territories far from home—which, as Marks shows us, has also happened before—these are stories of the utmost importance; they are told here in a way that every reader should profit from.
Journal of Asian Studies - Peter C. Perdue
Robert Marks's book is a superb synthesis of the English-language literature on Chinese environmental history. In eight succinct but fact-filled chapters, Marks covers the entire period from ancient China to the present in a fluently written, balanced, and accessible manner. For the first time, general readers can gain a sophisticated overview of Chinese interactions with their landscapes, their manipulation of natural resources, and their exploitation and destruction of both. Anyone seeking to understand how the long course of China's history has produced the current environmental crises must consult this book. . . . Marks devotes three of his eight chapters to the last two centuries, embracing the entire period of industrialization, revolution, and devastation. No one has covered the modern period in such insightful detail. . . . Its continuous story of intensified environmental pressure, as documented in this brilliant analysis, carries disturbing lessons of all of us.
Kenneth L. Pomeranz
This is a book for just about anybody: clear enough for a general reader with little background and nuanced enough to please any specialist. Marks explains the remarkable ways in which millennia of human activity—sometimes careful, sometimes careless—have transformed China’s landscapes and how the feedback of those changes has affected human affairs. He also shows that, though modern China has almost no 'natural' areas left, it has nonetheless remained a large and important reservoir of eco-diversity. In our own era, when Chinese production and consumption are also shaping territories far from home—which, as Marks shows us, has also happened before—these are stories of the utmost importance; they are told here in a way that every reader should profit from.
Environmental History
The volume deserves to be included on Chinese environmental history and global environmental history syllabi at all levels, and provides a valuable reference tool for anyone seeking to better understand interactions between environment and society in China’s past. ... Undoubtedly,Marks’s survey will stand as the best available introduction to China’s environmental history for quite some time. A brief overview can hardly begin to capture the volume’s empirical richness.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442212756
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/16/2011
  • Series: World Social Change Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 1,016,441
  • Product dimensions: 7.20 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert B. Marks is Richard and Billie Deihl Professor of History at Whittier College.
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction: Problems and Perspectives
Chapter 2: China’s Natural Environment and Early Human Settlement to 1000 BCE
Chapter 3: States, Wars, and Farms: Environmental Change in Ancient and Early Imperial China, 1000 BCE–300 CE
Chapter 4: Deforesting the North and Colonizing the South in the Middle Imperial Period, 300–1300 CE
Chapter 5: Empire and Environment: China’s Borderlands, Islands, and Inner Peripheries in Late Imperial China, 1300–1800 CE
Chapter 6: Environmental Degradation in Modern China, 1800–1949
Chapter 7: Controlling Nature in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–Present
Chapter 8: Conclusion: China and Its Environment in World Historical Perspective
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