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Here's a state of things
Local Ecologies
Grand Histories
Modern Predicaments
What next?

Local Ecologies
Grand Histories
Modern Predicaments
What Next?

Readings for Unit 3: GRAND HISTORIES

Thursday, April 14: Philosophies of Nature
We will first spend just a little while answering any questions you have about the material that you will be quizzed about on April 19.

Then we will take up 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. Please read at least one source on conceptions of nature in each of China's "three teachings": After you have read at least one of the texts about each philosophical tradition, but before midnight on Wednesday, April 13, please post 200+ words on which tradition you think is more likely to have supported sustainability or resilience, and why.

Tuesday, April 19: The Expansion of Han Civilization
The first thing for today is to take the basic facts quiz.

Since many of you will be studying hard for the quiz, there is no required reading for today. After the quiz, we will finish the discussion of philosophy and the environment, covering basic ideas of Daoism and Buddhism.

Thursday, April 21: Agricultural Expansion and Intensification

Today, we will begin a serious study of how China has fed, clothed, and housed itself for such a long time. Drawing on the ecologies of the three major East Asian zones that we studied in Unit 2, we will deal with the process of agricultural intensification which, along with agricultural expansion, is the primary technological accompaniment of population growth. During the first hour, I will show two slide shows:

  • The process of expansion over the centuries from the origins of Han civilization to the 20th century
  • The process of wet-rice agriculture, which is the culmination of this process of intensification. I will show you a slide show of how it was done in the years immediately preceding mechanization.
In the second hour, we will address the specific question of the tripling of the population during the Qing period from an ecological and agricultural angle. Some of the population was accommodated by the expansion of territory, but the great majority of the population growth was accommodated by two other processes: the expansion of intensive cultivation in to highland parts of the Core Zone, and further intensification of cultivation in those areas that were already intensively cultivated. I also have a chapter on this question, which you should read before class, along with Chapter 2, "Six Centuries of Rising Grain Production," from Dwight Perkins, Agricultural Development in China, 1368-1968.

There is also 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.

Tuesday, April 26: The Qing Population Explosion
Today we continue with the history of the Qing population explosion, but this time from a demographic angle. 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.

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.

After reading the works by Malthus and by Lee, Campbell, and Wang, and before midnight on Monday, April 25, please post 200+ words on how you think the Qing empire was able to triple its population between 1650 and 1850, without expanding the intensive core zone or improving its agricultural technology.

Thursday, April 28: Water Control and the Limits of Resilience

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. Three very interesting case studies of the late imperial period are presented in Peter Perdue's study of Dongting Lake in Hunan, Keith Schoppa's study of Xiang Lake in Zhejiang, and David A. Pietz's study of the Yellow River, two of which are required reading.

Tuesday, May 3: 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.