There is a Chinese Encyclopedia of China just as there is an English (and now American) Encyclopaedia Britannica, and I’ve naturally been interested in that publication and in the publishing company that has produced it, in different editions and versions, since 1978. I first met Gong Li, president of the Encyclopedia of China Publishing House, in Beijing in 2007, when Berkshire was at work on “our” encyclopedia of China, published in May 2009. The Berkshire Encyclopedia of China is, at only five volumes and 2,800 pages, far smaller even than their concise edition, which runs to 12 volumes. After we met and took the photos you see above left, in what I think of as the Great Hall of the Editors, Ms Gong and her staff took us to a fine lunch. We met again at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and on Friday I had the chance to host her and her staff in New York on a perfect summer’s day. Bill Siever and Marjolijn Kaiser came down from the Berkshires, too. We walked on the High Line and through Chelsea Market (which you can see at right), and then on to visit the National Committee on US-China Relations. (A highlight of our walk to the National Committee’s offices on 23rd Street was a doggie day care center.) The Encyclopedia of China Publishing House has published a Chinese version of the Encyclopedia Britannica for many years and we learned that that cooperation was part of the opening of China under Deng Xiaoping. How appropriate now that we should be discussing a new US-China partnership to bring Berkshire’s Encyclopedia of Sustainability to a Chinese audience!
Here’s a bit from the Introduction to China, India, and East and Southeast Asia: Assessing Sustainability, volume 7 of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability.
From the Introduction to China, India, and East and Southeast Asia: Assessing Sustainability, volume 7 of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability:
This volume – China, India, and East and Southeast Asia: Assessing Sustainability – is the first of three Encyclopedia of Sustainability volumes to be devoted to a particular region. This volume covers a huge region in terms of both population and geographical size, a region that embodies many of the Earth’s superlatives-pick up any newspaper on any given day and it is clear that there are a lot of things afoot. Even sticking to environmental matters, the mind reels at the sheer amount of activity: new cities sprouting like mushrooms in China; countrywide coal shortages in India; renewable energy projects taking shape, being argued over, sold, and traded; Chinese mining and other corporate interests investing in seemingly every country on Earth; solar-powered (and rainwater-collecting and shade-providing) “Supertrees” being built in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay; and consumerism and a desire for Western living standards taking hold in various places, in ways that would have seemed unimaginable two decades ago.
With all that’s going on in the region, it may seem preposterous to attempt to produce a volume in an encyclopedia-which is by definition stuck in time-dedicated to the subject. Any book that tries to cover both China and India (not to mention their neighbors) will have difficulties. In China’s case, the fact that it has experienced a quick (and ongoing) transition to a market economy, while still being governed by a one-party system, defies easy description. Meanwhile, India’s status as the world’s largest democracy comes with fairly predictable results.
The value of an encyclopedia, however, is its ability to present a comprehensive view of how things stand at one point in time. It forces us to slow down, to look in depth at what’s happening in many fields, in many countries, across river systems and mountains, forests, factories, laboratories, gigantic cities, rural villages, and everywhere in between. The vast panoply of the region is preserved in time.
. . . China was home to what the New York Times called “the most colossal literary work ever carried out by man” before it tragically was lost to humanity in a fire in 1900. The Yongle Dadian, or Great Compendium of the Yongle Reign, was an enormous literary encyclopedia that was completed in 1408 and had 22,877 chapters in 11,095 volumes; the table of contents alone spanned 60 volumes. . . .
Clearly, Asia is a singular place, and one that can’t easily be covered in a single book, let alone on a topic that’s as intriguing (and slippery to define) as sustainability. While we would aspire to have the reach of the Yongle Dadian, and would love to be able to call this series the Great Compendium of Sustainability, we must, of necessity in this modern age, set our goals somewhat more realistically.
What the reader will find in this volume of the Encyclopedia of Sustainability is a fascinating patchwork of material, including a general overview of cities in Asia, as well as a selection of cities, including Dhaka, Chennai, Singapore, Beijing, Mumbai, Shanghai, Jakarta, and Tokyo. There are articles on the environmental histories of China, India, Southeast Asia, Japan, and the Korean peninsula, as well as the Tibetan Plateau, the Himalaya, and a selection of key rivers such as the Mekong-Lancang, Ganges, Yangzi, and Huang. There are articles on the steel, automobile, nanotechnology, and information and communication technology (ICT), industries; articles on energy (renewable and otherwise), energy projects (after all, Asia has witnessed in recent years the creation of the aforementioned Three Gorges Dam and the devastating earthquake and tsunami that crippled Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in March of 2011-possibly taking with it the future of the entire industry, at least in Japan, although it may be too soon to judge), and energy security; articles on the traditional knowledge of China and India, both of which have huge implications for the modern nations of today; and general articles on public health, public transportation, microfinance, water security, rural development and livelihoods, consumption, and the influence of religions on current (and past and future) sustainability thought. . . .