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Chinese Studies Environmental Issues in Contemporary China
by
Richard Louis Edmonds

Introduction

The environment is a broad category, which at its widest includes virtually everything in our lives. In addition, what has gone on before as well as, increasingly, what is going on outside China affects the environment in contemporary China. Moreover, study of the environment involves input both from natural science and social studies, as well as humanities. Past land use patterns and forms of social structure affect China’s contemporary environment. This makes it extremely difficult to put together an article on environmental issues in China. Here the context will be limited to developments in post-1949 China. While both social and scientific literature will be covered, there will be more emphasis on the social implications over the whole period, whereas the scientific material will aim to present more-recent comprehensive material where available. Over the period covered, the data and research techniques have improved greatly, although problems still remain due to the politicized nature of most environmental issues. Until recently, most work on the environment in China was undertaken by research institutes—many in the Chinese Academy of Sciences and, since 1978, the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences. Implementation of policy was undertaken by environmental-protection organs, which at the national level moved up the bureaucracy, beginning in the early 1970s, to become Ministry of Environmental Protection in 2008. Prior to the 1990s, China’s environmental matters were in some ways a national affair. The scale of problems was not greatly affecting the world. Resources to fuel China’s economy were largely domestic, and foreign input into China’s environment was limited. Since the early 1990s, the situation has changed dramatically. Cooperation with foreign countries, particularly developed countries, increased greatly. With that, the impact of foreign production on China’s environment, and China’s economy on the rest of the world’s environment, has grown exponentially. Thus, today, China’s environment and its environmental policy are of great importance to all of us.

General Overviews

General overviews of China’s environment can take different positions on problems, and issues and methods of amelioration have evolved. Overall, however, politics and policy dominate in environmental matters just as they do in most aspects of Chinese life. No doubt this is because the state is the main player in most activities. This section has been divided into contributions that predate the 21st century (Late-20th-Century Contributions), and those that have appeared since 2000 (21st-Century Overviews), along with a small section on Textbooks and another on Anthologies.

Late-20th-Century Contributions

As China began to realize the level of damage the country had experienced since the founding of the People’s Republic, and information gradually began to surface from the 1970s, scholars began to assess the state of the country’s environment. In the West, Smil 1984 set the tone for these books, with Vaclav Smil’s negative assessment and critique of China’s environment. Edmonds 1994 carries on in this tradition. In the meantime, Smil 1993 gives an even more pessimistic rendition of China’s agro-ecosystem. Meanwhile, He 1991 presents the author’s work from a few years earlier, which represented a daring attempt by a Chinese journalist to get information about China’s environmental story that the government was not telling. A more official Chinese view of the time appeared in Qu and Li 1994, which puts much blame for environmental degradation on China’s large population. Isaïa 1981 and Ross 1988 also appeared, which are more specific to law and politics; Ross delved into the specifics of policy impact on the natural environment.

  • Edmonds, Richard Louis. Patterns of China’s Lost Harmony: A Survey of the Country’s Environmental Degradation and Protection. London: Routledge, 1994.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203299579Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Attempts to provide an overall survey of the state of the Chinese environment as of the late 1980s. In addition to chapters on various forms of degradation, there is a brief chapter on environmental history.

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  • He Bochuan. China on the Edge: The Crisis of Ecology and Development. Translated by Jenny Holdaway. San Francisco: China Books & Periodicals, 1991.

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    English translation of Shan’aoshang de Zhongguo: Wenti, kunjing, tongku de xuanze 山坳上的中国: 问题、困境、痛苦的选择 (Guiyang, China: Guizhou renmin chubanshe, 1989). This was a very controversial book that was banned in China, since it presented a rather negative view of environmental policy.

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  • Isaïa, Henri. La protection de l‘environnement en Chine. Collection Travaux et Recherches de l’Institut du Droit la Paix du Développment de l’Université de Nice. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1981.

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    Isaïa’s book represents an early attempt to compare socialist and capitalist tendencies in environmental policy, as well as a discussion of environmental law in China.

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  • Qu Geping 曲格平, and Li Jinchang 李锦昌. Population and Environment in China. Translated by Jiang Baozhong and Gu Ran. Edited by Robert B. Boardman. London: Paul Chapman, 1994.

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    English translation of Zhongguo renkou yu huanjing (中国人口与环境) (Beijing: Zhongguo huanjing kexue chubanshe, 1992). The main thesis of the work is that China’s large and growing population was responsible for much of China’s degradation. This view, widely held in China, fit in well with the so-called one-child policy, introduced in 1978.

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  • Ross, Lester. Environmental Policy in China. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

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    Sets out a threefold framework structure for policy approaches in China: bureaucratic-authoritative, exhortation-campaign, and market-exchange. Then, Ross proceeds to describe how policy was implemented, through examples from forestry, natural hazards, and pollution.

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  • Smil, Vaclav. The Bad Earth: Environmental Degradation in China. London: Zed, 1984.

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    A classic early assessment of the negative impacts of China’s environmental degradation during the Maoist years, spurred on by positive Western visitors’ accounts of the 1970s.

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  • Smil, Vaclav. China’s Environmental Crisis: An Inquiry into the Limits of National Development. Armonk, NY, and London: M. E. Sharpe, 1993.

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    A pessimistic account of China’s environment, with emphasis on agricultural production potential.

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21st-Century Overviews

Since the turn of the 21st century, China’s rapid growth and gradual opening to foreigners has made it possible for researchers to get much more accurate information on the state of China’s environment. Economy 2004, an award-winning book, stresses the development of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as providing a case study that gives an insight into the problems of environmental cleanup today. Smil 2004 gives one a feeling for where one long-time student of China’s environment still feels he is on target to understanding the problem. Shapiro 2001 is a reassessment of the earlier decades of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and is revealing of the negative aspect of a Maoist environmental legacy. Watts 2010 is not a research monograph but an environmentalist’s emotive view of the state of China. Ziran zhiyou 2008 is representative of a new trend in nongovernmental material coming out in China.

  • Economy, Elizabeth C. The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 2004.

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    Emphasis is on policy, with a particular interest in the development of NGOs. Water pollution in the Huai River valley is used as the major case study.

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  • Shapiro, Judith. Mao’s War against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China. Studies in Environment and History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511512063Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This book demonstrates how Maoist politics negatively affected the physical environment, through representative case studies. Shapiro uses personal examples to show how the regime contributed to the country’s degradation.

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  • Smil, Vaclav. China’s Past, China’s Future: Energy, Food, Environment. Critical Asian Scholarship. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.

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    A summation and update, to the beginning of the 21st century, of Smil’s previous work and viewpoints on the three topics in the title.

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  • Watts, Jonathan. When a Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind—or Destroy It. London: Faber & Faber, 2010.

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    A passionate eyewitness travel account, by an environmental journalist, decrying China’s degradation.

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  • Ziran zhiyou 自然之友. Zhongguo huanjing de weiji yu zhuanji (中国环境的危机与转机). Edited by Yang Dongpin 杨东平. Beijing: Shehui kexue chubanshe, 2008.

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    Compiled by the famous Chinese NGO Friends of Nature, the book has value as a nongovernmental publication that stresses citizen participation. There also are sections on the water crisis, the climate crisis, and the urban crisis. The authors are mainly from the media and or are academics with a background in social studies.

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Textbooks

Because the number of people who teach courses specifically dealing with environmental issues in China is few, there are few textbooks, and none that are suitable for a full course. Shapiro 2012 comes closest to fulfilling that goal, but it does not cover natural science. In some ways, Lee 2009 is not a book at all; however, its sections give readers a good start for designing their own course. Chen 2009 was not intended as a textbook but has some potential for course use.

  • Chen, Gang. Politics of China’s Environmental Protection: Problems and Progress. Series on Contemporary China 17. Singapore and Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1142/9789812838704Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This book is about new policies and reform measures undertaken since 2007, examining, in some detail, China’s climate change policy as well as the country’s use of the clean development mechanism. There are chapters devoted to the 2005 toxic spill in the Songhua River, the 2007 algae crisis in Tai Lake, and the 2008 Beijing Olympics air quality problems.

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  • Lee, Xuhui, ed. Lectures on China’s Environment. Publication Series (Yale University, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies) 20. New Haven, CT: Yale University, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 2009.

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    A collection of essays based on a lecture series course taught in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University in the fall semester of 2008. The chapters were written on the basis of student presentations, in conjunction with the specialists who gave lectures.

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  • Shapiro, Judith. China’s Environmental Challenges. China Today. Malden, MA: Polity, 2012.

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    A comprehensive look at Chinese environmental politics, stressing the changing roles of local government, national government, emerging civil society, civil protest, and foreign involvement within the slowly changing Chinese political and legal framework.

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Anthologies

To some degree, anthologies could function as textbooks, but each is limited by the specialist nature of the contributors. Day 2005, Edmonds 2000, and Song and Woo 2008 cover slightly different areas, with many of the papers more focused on special issues. Keeley and Zheng 2011 is more up to date and represents a full group of Chinese viewpoints rather than those of the largely foreign experts found in Edmonds 2000 and Day 2005.

Reference Works

Increasingly, people are turning to the web for reference, and the quality of data available on China is growing exponentially—with a fast-changing environmental situation, this is inevitable. Here we cite just a few examples of written material. There are problems with reference works, and these revolve around the paucity of good statistics on the environment. Earlier periods of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) remain shrouded in secrecy and “fudged” statistics. As time goes by, older series of statistics are reestimated and improved. While statistics gathered since the early 1990s represent an improvement over the early decades of the People’s Republic, statistics on “sensitive” material remain dubious.

Atlases

China has produced many atlases since the start of reforms of the late 1970s some of which can prove useful for understanding environmental problems. The atlas of endemic disease was an early contribution—probably because it was not as politically controversial as maps dealing with pollution. The following are just a few examples of such atlases. Chinese Academy of Sciences 2000 and People’s Insurance Company of China and Beijing Normal University 1992 represent a time of breakthrough in creating detailed atlases available in English. Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo renkou yu huanjing bianqian dituji represents a recent contribution in this area, covering all of China, whereas Guo 2008 details what happened during China’s major 2008 earthquake. Benewick and Donald 2009 includes environmental matters within a collection of economic data, while Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo difangbing yu huanjing tuji deals in detail with Kashin-Beck, goiter, and other diseases related to specific geographic conditions.

  • Benewick, Robert, and Stephanie Hemelryk Donald. The State of China Atlas: Mapping the World’s Fastest Growing Economy. 2d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

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    Much more than simply an environmental work, this resource provides a visual survey of economic, political, and social change, as well as clashes of priorities, in terms not just of the environment per se but also population policy, political stability, and energy needs.

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  • Chinese Academy of Sciences. The Atlas of Population, Environment and Sustainable Development of China. Beijing and New York: Science Press, 2000.

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    Contains 184 maps, with all the categories you would expect from the title.

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  • Guo Huadong 郭华东. Wenchuan dizhen zaihai yaogan tuji (汶川地震灾害遥感图集). Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 2008.

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    This atlas provides postprocessed remote-sensing images showing the characteristics of the infamous Wenchuan earthquake of 2008. There are damage assessments for waterways, dams, residences, roads, civil-engineering structures, and the natural environment.

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  • People’s Insurance Company of China, and Beijing Normal University, comps. Atlas of Natural Disasters in China. Edited by Yao Suihan and Peng Shengchao. Beijing and New York: Science Press, 1992.

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    Gives a comprehensive introduction to natural hazards in China, through 286 maps, diagrams, and graphs, as well as Landsat images and typical disaster photographs.

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  • Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo difangbing yu huanjing tuji (中华人民共和国地方病与环境图集). Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 1989.

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    Environmental maps in Chinese and English, along with maps locating Keshan, Kaschin-Beck, endemic goiter, “cretinism,” and fluorosis maps. This atlas attempts to illustrate how the natural environment led to specific regional diseases, and it also deals specifically with pollution.

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  • Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo renkou yu huanjing bianqian dituji (中华人民共和国人口与环境变迁地图集). Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 2010.

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    Contains 196 maps in Chinese, showing changes in regional population, land use, and various pollution and ecosystem distributions since 1950.

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Bibliographies

Perhaps due to the wide range of issues and the rapid development of this field in the age of the computer, there are no really comprehensive bibliographies in print in English. One can find items on the web in Chinese, such as a Zhongguo huanjing fagui mulu 中国环境法规目录 (China environmental regulations bibliography) and various bibliographies that contain dissertations of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, but these tend to be annually published and piecemeal. The two English-language items included here are likewise not full bibliographies. The China Environment Series bibliographic guides (see China Environment Forum 1997) are limited in time span (1997–2002) but do give publications by subject and are largely sociopolitical in nature. Seymour 2005 is very useful for the beginner and likewise is sociopolitical.

  • China Environment Forum. “Bibliographic Guide to the Literature.” In China Environment Series. Vol. 1. Edited by Aaron Frank, 95–104. Washington, DC: Environmental Change and Security Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1997.

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    Continued in China Environment Series Vols. 2 (Summer 1998): 94–99; 3 (1999–2000): 189–212; 4 (2001):184–187; and 5 (2002): 228–232, all of which are available online. This bibliography of English-language material was cumulative, covering material for each year from the series’ beginning in 1997 but ending in 2002. Sources were grouped by topics that varied from issue to issue. The environment is covered within several different topics in each issue.

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  • Seymour, James D. “China’s Environment: A Bibliographic Essay.” In China’s Environment and the Challenge of Sustainable Development. Edited by Kristen A. Day, 248–273. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2005.

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    Discusses the literature by topic, with references: traditional attitudes, writings on the reform era, energy, rural issues, the political/economic system, water, quality of life, law, international aspects, and civil participation.

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Statistics and Yearbooks

All provincial statistical yearbooks will have some information on the environment. The items listed here are useful first ports of call for environmental statistics and yearbooks. Zhongguo huanjing tongji nianjian is the official government source for national-level environmental data. Nickum 1995 remains a helpful tool for those first delving into the world of Chinese statistics. Chinese Academy of Social Sciences 2007, Lüpishu Zhongguo huanjing fazhan baogao, and Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo huanjing baohu bu bian 2011 are representative of newer works on which government and civic or foreign-based groups cooperate in publication of data.

  • Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, comp. The China Environment Yearbook: Crisis and Breakthrough of China’s Environment. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007–.

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    An English translation of a yearbook, Zhongguo huanjing nianjian (中国环境年鉴) (Beijing: Zhongguo huanjing chubanshe), it presents environmental events of the year, from the perspective of a nongovernmental organization.

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    • Lüpishu Zhongguo huanjing fazhan baogao (环境绿皮书中国环境发展报告). Beijing: Shehui kexue wenxian chubanshe, 1990–.

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      The original of the China Environment Yearbook above, the book looks at events with environmental impact from the previous year, in terms of the public good, with a critical eye toward future developments in sustainability and good governance.

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      • Nickum, James E. Dam Lies and Other Statistics: Taking the Measure of Irrigation in China, 1931–91. East-West Center Occasional Papers, Environment Series 18. Honolulu, HI: East-West Center, 1995.

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        Good study for showing how resource statistics have been manipulated in China. This study has practical implications for anyone interested in statistics, as well as for understanding the growth of China’s hydraulic system.

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      • Zhongguo huanjing tongji nianjian (中国环境统计年鉴). Beijing: Zhongguo tongji chubanshe, 2006–.

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        Coedited by the National Bureau of Statistics and Department of Environmental Protection and other relevant ministries, this Chinese/English book is the official source for national environmental information. In recent years, the book is divided into sections on natural conditions, water environment, marine environment, atmospheric environment, solid waste, ecology, land use, forestry, natural disasters and emergencies, environmental investments, urban environment, and rural environment.

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        • Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo huanjing baohu bu bian 中华人民共和国环境保护部编. Zhongguo huanjing zhiliang baogao: 2006–2010 (中国环境质量报告: 2006–2010). Beijing: Zhongguo huanjing kexue chubanshe, 2011.

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          A compilation of national and provincial environmental statistics, with an overall assessment of environmental quality as of 2010.

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        Data Sources

        In the early 21st century, online sources concerning China’s environment have boomed. Many organizations funding research and databases are based outside China as well as inside, including the China Green, China Dialogue, and the Professional Association for the Chinese Environment (Environmental China). Likewise, the Chinese government maintains databases and reading literature sources, such as Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo huanjing baohu bu (Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China) and Zhongguo huanjing bao. Local Chinese nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have also put their work and related documentation on the web, such as Green Earth Volunteers.

        Air Pollution and Climate Change

        China Climate Change Info-Net (Zhongguo qihou bianhua xinxiwa) is an example of an official website addressing climate change, and the Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21 (Guanzhu Zhongguo 21 Shiji yicheng, Guanzhu Zhongguo kechixu fazhan) website provides similar widespread coverage for that project, whereas Asia Society: Clearing the Air and China Air Daily attempt to provide specific information from unofficial sources, which sometimes runs counter to the Chinese officials’ urban air pollution statistics. China Air Daily includes comparisons with major US cities.

        Water

        Foreign governmental organizations also run direct exchange programs, including the European Union (China Europe Water Platform), whereas some NGOs such as Probe International take a critical view. National websites such as Sanxia guancha try to couch criticism of water policies within a milder context.

        Energy

        Some sites can provide project-centered information, such as the Auto Project on Energy and Climate Change, or be more general, such as ChinaFAQs: The Network for Climate and Energy Information and the China Sustainable Energy Program.

        Economy and Trade

        Within the large number of websites dealing with China’s economy and trade, some focus on environmental matters: the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development: China Programme is from an organization that covers the globe, whereas the International Fund for China’s Environment is China specific.

        Legal and Political Reform

        China Environmental Law is a blog site that covers legal matters related to China’s environment, from overseas, and it has a research focus. The Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims complements this, as an NGO website presenting practical information from the front lines. The Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs website provides information on green suppliers in China.

        Other Sites

        The World Wildlife Fund was the first international environmental NGO to set up in China, dealing with nature conservation matters, whereas China Environment and Health Resource Hub deals with environmental health, which is a crucial matter that crosses all aspects of the environment.

        Journals

        There are few regularly published journals in the West specifically devoted to Chinese environmental problems, although there are journals on China and environmental matters that periodically publish special issues devoted to the Chinese environment. In China there are many new start-up journals dealing with the environment, of varying quality, that predominantly publish on Chinese matters, including a few in English. Most of these journals deal with scientific matters, although those carrying articles concerned with social issues are increasing (Zhongguo renkou ziyuan yu huanjing, China Population, Resources and Environment, Zhongguo huanjing guanli, and, to a lesser extent, Shengtai yu nongcun huanjing xuebao). Still, most Chinese journals wholly dedicated to environmental matters tend to be technical in nature, such as Journal of Environmental Sciences, Huanjing kexue, and Zhongguo huanjing kexue. For the foreigner with a social interest, the China Environment Series is easily accessible, with numerous short articles. The Chinese journals listed here represent a small sample of what is available.

        • China Environment Series. 1997–.

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          Articles, commentaries, and project reports, with some emphasis on US-Chinese collaboration. Published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. These are available for free download as well as in hard copy.

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        • China Population, Resources and Environment. 1992–.

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          Published bimonthly by the Research Center for Sustainable Development of Shandong Province; formerly distributed by Elsevier (until 2010). In English, with the majority of articles social in nature and with most authored by Chinese scholars. The articles published in this journal are selected translations from original Chinese versions found in Zhongguo renkou ziyuan yu huanjing.

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        • Huanjing kexue 环境科学. 1978–.

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          Published monthly by the Chinese Environmental Science Press and edited by the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences in the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Zhongguo kexueyuan shengtai huanjing yanjiu zhongxin中国科学院生态环境研究中心), this is a well-respected outlet for research in the natural sciences. The vast majority of the papers relate to research undertaken in China.

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        • Journal of Environmental Sciences. 1989–.

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          Published monthly by the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and distributed by Elsevier since 2007. In English, with the majority of articles scientific in nature and with most authored by Chinese scholars. On occasion there are articles jointly authored with foreigners, and most of the articles are based on research done in China.

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        • Shengtai yu nongcun huanjing xuebao 生态与农村环境学报. 1985–.

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          Published bimonthly by the Chinese Environmental Science Press, and edited by the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences of the Ministry of Environment Protection, this journal focuses its reports, monographs, and reviews on regional ecological development, ecology, nature conservation, and rural pollution.

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        • Zhongguo huanjing guanli 中国环境管理. 1982–.

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          Published bimonthly by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Environmental Development Center 国家环境保护总局环境发展中心. This national-level journal includes articles on environmental management, economics, law, and sociology, among other subjects. Articles include theoretical as well as case studies and Ministry of Environment Protection–approved policy analysis.

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        • Zhongguo huanjing kexue 中国环境科学. 1981–.

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          Published bimonthly through 2007; since 2008, published monthly by the Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences 中国环境科学学会. This national-level journal includes articles on a wide range of topics, including environmental physics, chemistry, geography, law, management, planning, and impact assessments.

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        • Zhongguo renkou ziyuan yu huanjing 中国人口·资源与环境. 1991–.

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          Published monthly by the Research Center for Sustainable Development of Shandong Province 山东省可持续发展研究中心, the Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21 中国21世纪议程管理中心 and Shandong Normal University 山东师范大学. Dedicated to the concept of sustainable development, the journal focuses on ideas and methodologies attracting more socially oriented research than journals based in the science academies.

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        Literature Reviews

        Most reviews of environmental literature appear to be unpublished, with those that are published concentrating on industrial (Wang 2009 and Wong 2008) and economic matters (Liu 2012). Wu 2009 stands out as being concerned with an academic subdiscipline, environmental politics.

        Pollution

        Chinese pollution is serious, and, as a consequence, there is considerable literature on the subject. Most work is found in government reports and in research monographs. Pollution data are seen as sensitive and hence difficult for people to obtain outside the Chinese research community and the government. Material selected in this section is easily accessible and opens the door to further enquiry by following up references. Guo 2011 is a good, short introduction to the state of pollution in China. Andrews 2008–2009 is important because it demonstrates the dubious nature of some reporting on air pollution by Chinese officials. Ho and Nielsen 2007 is good place to start when looking at health problems connected with air pollution; the authors make a connection between traffic pollution and health. Likewise, Liu 2010 clarifies the severity of so-called “cancer villages.” McElroy, et al. 1998 is a must-read for those interested in the impact of energy use on the environment. Ma 2004 is by an author who is among China’s most famous environmentalists; his work on water pollution has become widely appreciated both inside and outside China. Qin 2008 contains detailed work on the famous Tai Lake in prosperous eastern China, starting with the basics about the lake; it provides, through a scientific analysis of various pollutants, an example of what affects lake water quality in eastern China. Xie and Li 2010 highlights brownfield pollution, which has become a more recognized issue since the mid-1990s.

        Resource Degradation

        Key areas of resource degradation, sometimes called ecological degradation, in China include deforestation, grassland degradation, desertification, erosion and reduction of agricultural land, and reduction of water bodies. Often these matters happen together or in combination with pollution. Nature Conservation, which is addressed as a separate topic in this bibliography, is part of this issue. Brown 1995 remains hotly debated as Chinese and other foreign companies buy agricultural land in the developing world. Shuili bu, et al. 2010 can be seen as typical of joint scientific documentation undertaken in China today. Ci and Yang 2010 and Yin 2010, along with Shen 2011, address respective techniques for controlling degradation. Mertha 2008, on water management and policy, has been a controversial and much-praised work. Harris 2010, on western China, is a good contribution to a considerable literature that has been growing rapidly since the start of the 21st century.

        • Brown, Lester R. Who Will Feed China? Wake-Up Call for a Small Planet. Worldwatch Environmental Alert. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

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          On the basis of statistics compiled by the US Department of Agriculture, and assuming that rapid economic growth in mainland China will produce patterns similar to what has occurred in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, Brown states that the country will soon lose the ability to feed itself. This book caused quite a stir when it came out and has been soundly criticized, but the topic still has relevance as we see China’s desire for quantity and for high-quality foods grow.

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        • Ci, Longjun, and Xiaohui Yang, eds. Desertification and Its Control in China. Heidelberg, Germany, and New York: Springer, 2010.

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          A compilation that covers the major processes that can cause desertification.

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        • Harris, Richard B. “Rangeland Degradation on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau: A Review of the Evidence of Its Magnitude and Causes.” Journal of Arid Environments 74.1 (2010): 1–12.

          DOI: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2009.06.014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Notes the generally gloomy picture that Chinese government reports paint of degradation and irrational overstocking of livestock on much of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Suggests that the real situation remains largely unknown due to poor monitoring programs. Feels this lack of information may undermine current policy initiatives aimed at sustainability.

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        • Mertha, Andrew C. China’s Water Warriors: Citizen Action and Policy Change. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.

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          Argues that as China has become increasingly market-driven, decentralized, and politically heterogeneous, the control and management of water has changed from an unquestioned economic imperative to a cause of bureaucratic infighting, societal opposition, and open protest. Bargaining in policy by the media, nongovernmental organizations, and other activists is now important.

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        • Shen Xiaohui. “Forests in China: A Problem of Quality.” In Green China: Chinese Insights on Environment and Development. Edited by James Keeley and Zheng Yisheng, 46–59. London: International Institute for Environment and Development, 2011.

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          Good general paper stressing the need for dramatic qualitative improvements in planting. Stresses need to close off areas and allow some lands to revive “naturally” rather than through planting.

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        • Shuili bu 水利部, Zhongguo kexueyuan 中国科学院, and Zhongguo guchengyuan 中国工程院, eds. Zhongguo shuitu liushi fangzhi yu shengtai anquan (中国水土流失防治与生态安全). Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 2010.

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          Based on a survey done between July 2005 and May 2007 in seven erosion-prone districts of China. Separate volumes have appeared for each region investigated, as well as volumes focusing on development, statistics, erosion impact assessment, and erosion prevention policy.

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        • Yin, Runsheng, ed. An Integrated Assessment of China’s Ecological Restoration Programs. Heidelberg, Germany, and Secaucus, NJ: Springer, 2010.

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          A collection of papers that address the efficacy and impact of restoration program methodologies, including modeling and mapping. There are also case studies of degraded farmlands, grasslands, and forests; overall land cover changes; soil erosion; and desertification.

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        Other Environmental Matters

        China’s changing economic and political situation has led to more specialization in studies of the Chinese environment since the mid-1990s. Climate change and green economics are two areas that are intimately tied to China’s economic growth. The changing political situation has created more space both to contest past mistakes and to make the system more accountable in the future. The section on Environmental Law addresses these changes, as does the writing on past natural disasters (see Hazards and Disasters) and the evaluation of dam construction (see Dams and the Environment). Nature Conservation issues include multiple forms of environmental degradation and have become a concern as China’s population grows and becomes wealthier.

        Climate Change

        China is now the biggest producer of carbon emission into the atmosphere. While one can debate how much of this China is responsible for, since many of its products are made for sale in other countries, the fact remains that what happens in China is crucial to controlling carbon emissions, and most of the scientific community believes that climate change is occurring. The Copenhagen conference has been seen as a disaster for China and for carbon emissions control. Conrad 2012 ably displays why China failed to accomplish its goals at Copenhagen. Xu 2011 presents a Chinese perspective on the situation, whereas Zhang 2011 suggests what China can and should do up to 2050, from an economist’s perspective.

        Green Economy and Ecotourism

        China has tried to bring in a green perspective to economic growth, and Wang 2009 gives a good summary of why this movement to create green GDP figures for China has been problematic, while Zhang 2002 looks specifically at how policies in growing small towns are formulated to deal with industrial pollution. Ecotourism can be seen as green economic business; Wen and Tisdell 2001 is the first major work on the subject.

        • Wang Jinnan 王金南. Zhongguo lüse guomin jingji hesuan yanjiu baogao 2004 (中国绿色国民经济核算研究报告 2004). Beijing: Zhongguo huanjing kexue chubanshe, 2009.

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          This report documents the first attempt at a complete national survey of green GDP, giving estimates of the cost of pollution to China for 2004. Costs of water pollution and air pollution are estimated in separate chapters.

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        • Wen, Julie Jie, and Clement A. Tisdell. Tourism and China’s Development: Policies, Regional Economic Growth and Ecotourism. Singapore and River Edge, NJ: World Scientific, 2001.

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          This was the first book to deal with ecotourism issues in China. It addresses convergence and divergence in regional tourism development, and economic growth relevant to other geographical areas. There is a chapter devoted specifically to Yunnan as a case study.

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        • Zhang, Lei. “Ecologizing Industrialization in Chinese Small Towns.” PhD diss., Wageningen University, 2002.

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          A doctoral dissertation based on the study of five towns in Anhui and Jiangsu. Zhang concludes that small-town ecosystemic problems are difficult to solve because of interactions between internal and external alliances, limited bottom-up local capacity, and the complexity of the problems, as well as the lack of environmental awareness. That said, the international environment appears to be creating potential for local reform.

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        Environmental Law

        There is a general feeling that China’s legal system is inadequate to deal with environmental matters, despite efforts in recent years to strengthen the legal system. McElwee 2011, Stern 2011, and van Rooij 2006 are recent studies that look into this issue.

        Hazards and Disasters

        China has the potential for drought, flooding, earthquakes, flash rains, strong winds, excessively cold temperatures, forest fires, landslides, tsunami, and sea-level rise. Extreme conditions have led to famine and death in large numbers. Becker 1996 provides a political account for the Great Leap famine in 1958–1962. Dikötter 2010 and Yang 2012, whose authors come up with different figures for famine deaths, are important books in that their detailed research confirm the view in Becker 1996 that the famine was human induced. This puts into play a whole discussion about how often are natural disasters “natural.” Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo 1995 is illustrative of how the Chinese government used to write up disasters with official tabulations. Kueh 1995 also uses a long data stream to see what has affected agricultural output in China. Teets 2009 is about the more recent Wenchuan earthquake disaster, which is also being debated in terms of how many deaths could have been avoided by better construction. The author’s concerns are somewhat different from those in Chigira, et al. 2010, which presents a geomorphologic view of the formation of deadly landslides induced by the earthquake. He, et al. 2008–2009 presents a more political-economic assessment of China’s handling of risk in disasters.

        • Becker, Jasper. Hungry Ghosts: Mao’s Secret Famine. New York: Free Press, 1996.

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          Becker lists Stalinist collectivization, Soviet-inspired agricultural policies, and Mao Zedong’s desire for absolute power as causes of this disaster. Claims no other group suffered more bitterly from the famine than the Tibetans, and discusses cannibalism in detail. Becker sees Liu Shaoqi’s attempts to alleviate the famine as part of the rift with Mao that led to Liu’s downfall.

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        • Chigira, Masahiro, Xiyong Wu, Takashi Inokuchi, and Gonghui Wang. “Landslides Induced by the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, Sichuan, China.” Geomorphology 118.3–4 (June 2010): 225–238.

          DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2010.01.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          A well-illustrated geomorphologic study using Japanese satellite images of the largest nonvolcanic landslide in history, induced by the Wenchuan earthquake. Shallow landslides were the most common, and most landslides occurred near the fault or on steep slopes near the Min River. More than thirty landslide dams formed during the quake. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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        • Dikötter, Frank. Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958–1962. New York: Walker, 2010.

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          An account based on considerable archival work suggesting that forty-three to forty-six million people died in the Chinese famine during the Great Leap Forward (1959–1961). Best read in conjunction with Yang 2012.

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        • He, Guizhen, Yonglong Lu, and Lei Zhang. “Risk Management: Lessons Learned From the Snow Crisis in China.” China Environment Series 10 (2008–2009): 143–150.

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          Discusses how the Chinese government handled the snow crisis as well as other recent disasters, such as the Wenchuan earthquake of 2008 and the Songhua River chemical spill of 2005.

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        • Kueh, Y. Y. Agricultural Instability in China, 1931–1991: Weather, Technology, and Institutions. Studies on Contemporary China. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.

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          A classic statistical and economic study that looks at various factors influencing agricultural output, including weather.

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        • Teets, Jessica C. “Post-Earthquake Relief and Reconstruction Efforts: The Emergence of Civil Society in China?.” China Quarterly 198 (June 2009): 330–347.

          DOI: 10.1017/S0305741009000332Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          A political study that looks at the interrelationship between government and civil society during the Wenchuan earthquake of 2008. The study suggests that the division between state and civil society is no longer black and white. The paper uses interview material to analyze the problems each side of this divide faced in practice.

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        • Yang Jisheng. Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958–1962. Edited by Edward Friedman, Guo Jian, and Stacy Mosher. Translated by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

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          English translation of Mubei: Zhongguo Liushi Niandai Daijihuang Jishi (墓碑:中国六十年代大饥荒纪实) (Hong Kong: Tiandi Tushu, 2008). A detailed account of the Chinese famine during the Great Leap Forward (1959–1961), estimating the total number of deaths at thirty-six million, from what Yang sees as largely a human-induced disaster. Best read in conjunction with Dikötter 2010.

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        • Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo, Guojia tongji ju 中华人民共和国国家统计局 and Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo, Minzheng bu 中华人民共和国民政部, eds. 1949–1995 Zhongguo haiqing baogao (1949–1995 中国害情报告). Beijing: Zhongguo tongji chubanshe, 1995.

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          Jointly edited by the National Bureau of Statistics of China and the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China. An official statistical compendium on natural disasters, including floods, drought, typhoons, hailstorms, low-temperature frosts, agricultural diseases and pests, forestry disasters, earthquakes, and marine disasters. Statistical tables are included. There is also a section listing disasters by year. A look at the statistics for spring disasters (p. 267), however, suggests that the totals during the Great Leap Famine years are far too low.

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        Dams and the Environment

        Dam building has been among the most controversial environmental issues in China. The Three Gorges Dam, as discussed in Barber and Ryder 1993, Dai 1998, and Dai 1994, is the most widely studied of such projects, due to its large size. Chen and Talwani 1998 discusses the issue of reservoir-induced earthquakes, several of which have occurred in China. McNally, et al. 2009 addresses the issue of scale of these projects, and whom they serve.

        • Barber, Margaret, and Gráinne Ryder, eds. Damming the Three Gorges: What Dam Builders Don’t Want You to Know; A Critique of the Three Gorges Water Control Project Feasibility Study. 2d ed. London: Earthscan, 1993.

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          A set of essays that critiqued the dam’s creation (at the time of its formal approval by the National People’s Congress in 1992) and helped to build the anti–Three Gorges movement outside China.

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        • Chen, Linyue, and Pradeep Talwani. “Reservoir-Induced Seismicity in China.” Pure and Applied Geophysics 153.1 (1998): 133–149.

          DOI: 10.1007/s000240050188Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          A scientific discussion of this problem, focusing on four examples: the Xinfengjiang Reservoir, the Danjiangkou Reservoir, the Shenwo Reservoir, and the Dengjiaqaio Reservoir, the smallest reservoir known to have been associated with reservoir-induced seismicity.

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        • Dai Qing. Yangtze! Yangtze! Edited by Patricia Adams and John G. Thibodeau. Translated by Nancy Liu. London and Toronto: Earthscan, 1994.

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          A collection of interviews, essays, and statements by Chinese scientists, journalists, and intellectuals opposed to the Three Gorges. Originally published in Chinese in a shorter version in 1989, the book is credited with helping to postpone construction of the dam. This English edition was expanded to include post-Tiananmen events and deals with sociopolitical as well as technical aspects of the project.

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        • Dai Qing, comp. The River Dragon Has Come! The Three Gorges Dam and the Fate of China’s Yangtze River and Its People. Edited by John G. Thibodeau and Philip B. Williams. Translated by Yi Ming. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1998.

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          A collection of essays critical of resettlement policies, failures, dangers, and culture loss before, during, and after the construction of various Chinese dams, but with most emphasis on the Sanxia or Three Gorges Dam.

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        • McNally, Amy, Darrin Magee, and Aaron T. Wolf. “Hydropower and Sustainability: Resilience and Vulnerability in China’s Powersheds.” In Special Issue: Understanding and Linking the Biophysical, Socioeconomic and Geopolitical Effects of Dams. Journal of Environmental Management 90.S3 (2009): S286–S293.

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          Concludes that reforms in China’s hydropower sector since 1996 have been motivated by the need to create stability at the national scale rather than to solve problems of local or international demand for energy and water. The study puts the authors’ work in an international context and concludes with a look at a framework for the Nu or Salween River. This journal issue contains other articles dealing with Chinese dams. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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        Nature Conservation

        Although China formally started to implement a nature reserve system in the 1950s, nature conservation has been plagued by inefficiencies and systemic contradictions. Harris 2008 gives good examples of some of these weaknesses in the case of extreme western China, where the conservation system is arguably at its weakest. In contrast, Kram, et al. 2012 gives a good overall summation of the biodiversity issue in China, providing recent cases of new methods that are coming on line. McBeath and Leng 2006 presents a comparative perspective, although the scale of operations between China and Taiwan differs. Schaller 1993 remains the classic study of the giant panda, while Coggins 2003 explores cultural and historical aspects of conservation in China.

        Social Movements and Behavior

        This section addresses the growth of social movements in China (Fu 2011, Ho and Edmonds 2008, Yang 2005), as well as the idea of the environment and nature (Harris 2006, Weller 2006). As China reforms, there is an expectation by many that social space will continue to open, and, as such, these papers trace that opening, to date.

        • Fu Tao. “Breaching Barriers: Chinese Environmental NGOs Come of Age.” In Green China: Chinese Insights on Environment and Development. Edited by James Keeley and Zheng Yisheng, 272–285. London: International Institute for Environment and Development, 2011.

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          An up-to-date review of the development of environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and their relationship to the Chinese government as well as to international NGOs.

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        • Harris, Paul G. “Environmental Perspectives and Behavior in China: Synopsis and Bibliography.” Environment and Behavior 38.1 (January 2006): 5–21.

          DOI: 10.1177/0013916505280087Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          After looking at Chinese-language surveys, Harris sees Chinese values as not so different from Westerners but stresses the importance of the values of China’s elites for the future of environmental improvement. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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        • Ho, Peter, and Richard L. Edmonds, eds. China’s Embedded Activism: Opportunities and Constraints of a Social Movement. Routledge Studies in China in Transition 30. London and New York: Routledge, 2008.

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          A collection of essays on various aspects of environmental activism in China. Includes a theoretical piece by Peter Ho, on what he describes as the embedded nature of domestic environmental NGOs, in order to carry out their work in China’s political system.

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        • Weller, Robert P. Discovering Nature: Globalization and Environmental Culture in China and Taiwan. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

          DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511805257Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          A reflective comparative study that focuses on nature tourism, antipollution movements, policy implementation, and globalization and is based on years of fieldwork starting in the 1970s in Taiwan. Finds a considerable coincidence in the views of “nature” and the environment in the two polities.

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        • Yang, Guobin. “Environmental NGOs and Institutional Dynamics in China.” China Quarterly 181 (March 2005): 46–66.

          DOI: 10.1017/S0305741005000032Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          An account of the growing role of NGOs, their typology, and possible impact on future political change. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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        LAST MODIFIED: 04/22/2013

        DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199920082-0044

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