Posted on

History speaks: the past and the present in China

Naturally I like the famous line attributed to Harvard philosopher George Santayana, that, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (I say attributed only because it seems unlikely that this wasn’t thought and said by others before Santayana.) And no one doubts that the past is particularly relevant in China, the world’s oldest culture. I was dumbfounded, as I spent yet another day immersed in editorial work on our various China projects (to read more about them, do visit Berkshire Goes to China, [I’m pasting in the link because WordPress is struggling tonight.]

I noticed in an article on the environmental history of ancient China published in our 2003 Encyclopedia of World Environmental History, that:

China is a vast land with a great variety of terrain as well as weather, making it difficult to speak of a single ecology or environment in this region. Nevertheless, there are four environmentally relevant issues that a majority of ancient Chinese had to contend with, regardless of their location. These relate to water, deforestation, farming, and regional interdependence.

Then I read an article that had just been submitted for the Encyclopedia of China, forthcoming in July:

Regardless of these achievements, the tendency of environmental degradation has not been hold back essentially and concerns are particularly with the following aspects: (1) the shortage of water resources, (2) the total disappearance of natural forests, (3) the expansion of desert area, (4) the aggravated erosion in certain localities, (5) the biodiversity continued to decrease, (6) the natural calamities occurred more frequently, and (7) the environmental pollution has not been controlled effectively. Under this circumstance, the impacts of environmental degradation on human health and national security are well recognized by the government.

Number 1 environmental problem, ancient and modern: Water. Number 2: Deforestation. How about another time-worn quotation: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *