Mao's War against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China / Edition 1

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In clear and compelling prose, Judith Shapiro relates the great, untold story of the devastating impact of Chinese politics on China's environment during the Mao years. Maoist China provides an example of extreme human interference in the natural world in an era in which human relationships were also unusually distorted. Under Mao, the traditional Chinese ideal of "harmony between heaven and humans" was abrogated in favor of Mao's insistence that "Man Must Conquer Nature." Mao and the Chinese Communist Party's "war" to bend the physical world to human will often had disastrous consequences both for human beings and the natural environment. Mao's War Against Nature argues that the abuse of people and the abuse of nature are often linked. Shapiro's account, told in part through the voices of average Chinese citizens and officials who lived through and participated in some of the destructive campaigns, is both eye-opening and heartbreaking. Judith Shapiro teaches environmental politics at American University in Washington, DC. She is co-author, with Liang Heng, of several well known books on China, including Son of the Revolution (Random House, 1984) and After the Nightmare (Knopf, 1986). She was one of the first Americans to work in China after the normalization of U.S.-China relations in 1979.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Shapiro is a gifted storyteller, and the book is a fascinating read...a must-read for anyone interested in understanding not only all that the Chinese people have endured in their recent past but also how those turbulent times shape the current environment and future possiblities." WWW.WASHINGTONPOST.COM

"We knew that Mao traumatized the psyche of his nation. Now, thanks to Judith Shapiro's meticulous research and fine writing, Westerners can realize just how badly he traumatized its landscape and resources. I've never read a better argument for openness in decision-making. An utterly fascinating book." Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Maybe One

"This important volume offers food for thought for those concerned about China's environmental past and future and the broader connections between humans and nature." American Historical Review

"Dr. Shapiro's well-researched book records the disastrous degradation of China's natural environment during the era of Mao Zedong. The traditional teaching that men must live in harmony with nature was declared backward and counter-revolutionary. Scholars and experts who opposed his policy were persecuted. As a result, damage to China's environment will take generations to recover. This book provides a timely warning, and an encouragement to the enlightened few who have realized the seriousness of the situation." Nien Cheng, author of Life and Death in Shanghai

"We knew that Mao traumatized the psyche of his nation. Now, thanks to Judith Shapiro's meticulous research and fine writing, Westerners can realize just how badly he traumatized its landscape and resources. I've never read a better argument for openness in decision-making. An utterly fascinating book." Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Maybe One

"The case studies are informative and well done." American Political Science Review

"In an illuminating and absorbing account, Judith Shapiro reveals how Mao's policies resulted in such massive environmental degradation that it clouds China's future despite current conservation efforts. Even today, countries often seem to subscribe to Mao's dictum, 'Man Must Conquer Nature.' China's mistakes offer important lessons for everyone, as this timely book so lucidly describes." George B. Schaller, Wildlife Conservation Society; author of The Last Panda

"well-written...It tells a shocking story that needs to be told, but ends on a note of hope." Nature

"This book represents the first Western-language work to elucidate the environmental problems of the Mao era. Mao's War Against Nature will become the classic book on this topic and is essential reading for anyone interested in the Chinese environment or the legacy of the Mao era. The discussions of Ma Yinchu and Huang Wanli are unique and provide excellent case studies of the problems intellectuals encountered during those years." Richard Louis Edmonds, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; author of Patterns of China's Lost Harmony

"engaging...compelling" Dow Jones News Service

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Much has been written on the human suffering in China under Mao Zedong, and a growing literature has examined the environmental degradation of this period. In this unique and important study American University environmentalist Shapiro, co-author with Liang Heng of three previous books on China, combines the two themes. Her thesis is "that the abuse of people and nature are often interrelated," and that Mao's China is an extreme case of this connection. Under Mao, China was a place of fierce repression and constant mobilization of the "masses." Through the power of their will and obeisance to Mao, it was believed the masses would develop China. Nature, then, was the enemy to be conquered, but it was not the only one; anyone who disagreed with Mao was an enemy as well, and could be banished, imprisoned or killed. Thus, as Shapiro shows in finely crafted case studies, Mao launched a series of utopian mass development schemes tempered neither by scientific caution nor by democratic political opposition. As Mao ignored warnings on China's explosive population growth, deforestation projects and overuse and misuse of the land led to massive famine in the 1960s. Local practices were disregarded as Mao demanded the uniform application across China of questionable policies such as the forced growing of grain no matter what the local conditions. Through these and other similar schemes, by Mao's death in 1976 both nature and the masses were exhausted and ruined. Mao's most lasting legacy, Shapiro observes, may be a cynicism and disillusionment among the Chinese people that makes them suspicious of any public goals, including the environmental reclamation of China. (Apr.) Forecast: The author will promote this in Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco, and with advertising in the Economist, Natural History, Atlantic Monthly and the New York Review of Books, this book should reach a hard-core audience interested in China, human rights and environmentalism. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521786805
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2001
  • Series: Studies in Environment and History
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 287
  • Sales rank: 1,488,186
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. Population, dams and political repression; 2. Deforestation, famine, and utopian urgency; 3. Grainfields in lakes and dogmatic uniformity; 4. War preparations and forcible relocations; 5. The legacy.

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