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Here's a state of things
How did it get this way?
Local Communities
Local to Global

How did it get this way?
Local Communities
Local to Global

Readings for Unit 2: HOW DID IT GET THIS WAY?

Friday, January 10: Sustainability and Resilience

We will spend today discussing two important concepts that will inform our understanding of China's environmental history and its environmental present: sustainability and resilience. To begin understanding these concepts, you should read two theoretical pieces: Simon Levin et al.'s "Resilience in Natural and Socioeconomic Systems," p. 222-234 in the Policy Forum on Resilience and Sustainability (you're welcome to read more, of course), and Robert Solow's Sustainability: an Economist's Perspective. If you get really interested in the topic, and especially if you are a graduate student, you should read two chapters from Lance Gunderson and C.S. Holling's Panarchy, which give you a deeper and more complex understanding that you may wish to use in your writing later on.

I will then briefly explain these concepts further and show how they fit into the history of China from an ecological perspective, concentrating on the Qing Dynasty and the Republican period.

Wednesday, January 15: Population Growth

I begin the class with a brief review of the concepts and measures of the field of demography, something that should be part of everyone's general education, but isn't. I will show how population growth is best understood as a micro-macro interaction. Against this background, we can look the past and future of China's population, paying particular attention to the two periods of relatively rapid population growth in China: a near tripling during the Qing Dynasty and another near-tripling from 1950 to the present:

Although the details of the macro-trends are hotly disputed, the overall pattern is easily captured in a single diagram.

What is more difficult is uncovering the individual behavior behind these trends. There has been a huge dispute about Chinese fertility behavior, starting with the assertions originally made in book one of Thomas Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population. For our purposes here, the best thing is for you to read Fertility," chapter 6, and "System," chapter 7 from James Z. Lee and Wang Feng, One Quarter of Humanity, and then read about the dispute arising from this book.

In the second part of the class, we debate the issues raised in the dispute of Wolf vs. Lee, Campbell, and Wang, and talk about how population and fertility fit into the ecosystems of traditional China at a micro and macro level.

Friday, January 17: Agricultural Expansion and Intensification

Today we begin a serious study of how China has fed, clothed, and housed itself. To do so, we need to go into detail about the three different ecological zones of East Asia and the different forms of subsistence that developed as adaptations to the three zones in the pre-industrial era. Begin by reading pages 101-117 from a chapter by Joseph Whitney on East Asian Agriculture, published in G.A. Klee (ed.), World Systems of Traditional Resource Management. 1980. This geographical discussion will also help you prepare for your basic quiz, which you will be taking on Wednesday, January 29.

After we go over the quiz materials, I will introduce the first paper assignment, due Monday, February 3.

Then we will deal with the process of agricultural intensification which, along with agricultural expansion, is the primary technological accompaniment of population growth. The pre-industrial culmination of this process of intensification is wet rice agriculture, and I will show you a slide show of how it was done in the years immediately preceding mechanization.

Finally, there is the matter of how food habits themselves are influenced by, and in turn influence, the practices of agriculture. We will talk a little about this in the context of Eugene Anderson's chapter on Chinese Foodstuffs Today from his book, The Food of China.

Wednesday, January 22: Water and Waterworks

Water is a big part of any ecosystem, but in China water takes on particular importance at different scales. At the largest scale, there is too much water in the south and not enough in the north, as you can see from our basic maps. In fact, the necessity to control water to irrigate fields, prevent floods, and enable transportation led to Karl Wittfogel's famous theory of oriental despotism, which you may or may not want to read about.

More directly to the point, water control was a way in which Chinese modified their natural environment for human use over the course of the last few thousand years. They not only practiced water control, but philosophized and theorized about it. Two very interesting case studies of the late imperial period are presented in Peter Perdue's study of Dongting Lake in Hunan and Keith Schoppa's study of Xiang Lake in Zhejiang, both of which are required reading.

Friday, January 24: Cities, War and Deforestation

Mark Elvin has advanced the provocative thesis that Imperial China, rather than being a society that kept humans and the environment in balance, was in fact a society and culture that devastated the environment, albeit more slowly than do modern industrial societies. Stated as "Chinese-style pre-modern hydro-agrarian city-driven development was the main source of difficulty and disaster in the historical period," this thesis is presented in concise form in one of your required readings for today, Elvin's Environmental Legacy of Imperial China, and in rather longer form in his book, The Retreat of the Elephants. Your other reading is a case study by Robert Marks, People Said that Extinction was not Possible from his work on Guangdong environmental history, Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt.

On the basis of these case studies, we will discuss the question of whether imperial Chinese culture was a three-thousand year slow train to disaster, or whether it contained the possibility of sustainable human-environment relations. We will not be able to resolve this dispute, but our discussion here will be supplemented next week when we talk about the ecology of local communities.

Wedensday, January 29: Philosophy, Politics, and Nature

The first thing you need to do today is take the basic quiz.

When you are done with the quiz, we will proceed to the question of the philosophies and systems of thought that explained and supported the ambiguous relationship between Chinese civilization and long-term sustainability and resilience. One of your required texts, Robert Weller's Discovering Nature, addresses this question in some detail; for today please read the introduction and chapters 1-3 (I assume you couldn't resist reading something called "Night of the Living Dead Fish" anyway). Also, going a little more deeply into the relationship of China's philosophical and religious traditions to ecology and the environment, please read at least one source on conceptions of nature in each of China's "three teachings":

After a very abstract lecture, we will have a class discussion on the degree to which Confucian principles of anthropocosmic proto-ecology are or are not manifested in the actual cases from Schoppa, Perdue, Elvin, Marks, etc., which in expanded form will be one of the topics for your first paper.