Water buffalo pull carts of hay in Hubei Province, near the Yangzi River, a scene that has changed little over the centuries. Agricultural productivity is a long-standing challenge for China, where the population almost doubled between 1700 and 1800, causing an increase in demand for food production and a strain on China’s natural resources. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

By the early twentieth century, China’s population growth had placed great demands on natural resources. Increasing industrialization and modern technology continued the devastation and caused many types of environmental pollution. China’s awareness of the need to curb pollution came about initially in the 1970s; in the twenty-first century China still struggles with balancing environmental concerns and economic progress.

Under the rule of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) the Chinese empire more than doubled the size of its territory, and its geographical and cultural diversity were greater than those of any other country. In the rural northern and western regions peopled by ethnic minorities, yaks filled the stables of Buddhist monasteries on the plateau of Tibet, horses and deer roamed the plains and forests of Manchuria, camels passed through the inner Asian desert oases in Xinjiang, and goats grazed the pastures of Mongolia. In the southwestern and southern regions native peoples had fought losing battles against the invasions of Han Chinese colonists, miners, traders, and soldiers who came to exploit the riches of the tropical rain forests, timber, mineral resources (including copper, iron, tin), and eventually their farming soils. In the fertile river valleys and plains in the eastern half of China, the Han Chinese population had grown from about 150 million in 1700 to maybe 350 million in 1800 and to 450 million in 1900, creating an enormous need for resources including metals, timber, cotton, wool, fuel, pork, and many other products. Spurred on by the new American crops (such as maize, potatoes, and tobacco) and a growing demand for tea, many farmers relocated to take advantage of the hills and mountains of central and southern China, and millions even went overseas. Wherever people moved, the demand on natural resources increased. But economic growth was uneven, and so were its environmental effects on different regions.

A Landscape Made by the Human Hand

After the eighteenth century forests were cut down with increasing speed and the land was reclaimed for agriculture. Farmers and other settlers ruthlessly misused the shrinking natural vegetation and other resources of the hills and upstream areas. Many mountain soils, unable to sustain a long period of farming, rapidly eroded and became too thin and stony for raising crops. On gentler slopes and along river valleys, terraces were built to conserve water, soil, and nutritional elements. Lakes and low-lying land in river floodplains were restored for irrigated agriculture. These resulting anthropogenic (or human-created) soils became stable and gave high yields of rice. Thus much of China’s landscape was created by the human hand. But land and people became vulnerable to floods and droughts as riverbeds were raised and flood retention capacities and natural vegetation were reduced. Along the coast, the silt-laden rivers deposited much sediment, and land was reclaimed from the sea on a large scale, not only at the mouth of the Huang (Yellow) River, but also near those of the Yangzi (Chang) and other rivers.

Dry and Irrigated Farming: North and South

Water is in short supply in northern China but ample in southern China, where the monsoon climate brings an uneven distribution of rainfall, with spring droughts and summer floods. Some land along the rivers of northern China and near mountains was irrigated by surface water, but most farming was dry. Shallow wells supplied water for agriculture and drinking. Wheat, millet, sorghum, and maize were dominant crops; as a result diets were poor and particularly lacking in animal protein. Constrained by poverty and difficult transport, few farmers could afford to grow cash crops such as cotton, tobacco, and peanuts, or to keep pigs for manure and pork. In contrast, in the Yangzi River basin in central and southern China, water was abundant and, where necessary, was caught in tanks and reservoirs in the hills and subsequently stored in paddy fields. Rice yields were high, transport was convenient, and income was supplemented by sericulture (silk production), tea growing, weaving, and other industries. With these advantages, population was dense, crowding the cities, market towns, and villages that stretched along rivers, roads, and canals.

New Factors of Change

During the final years of the Manchu dynasty, four new elements began to change China’s traditional environment.

First was modern transport. Government concessions were given to build railroads; as Chinese and foreign railway companies began to develop land and to exploit mines and forests, new cities sprang up. Because of improved railway transport, millions of colonists moved into Manchuria and other outlying regions. Famines were much reduced; great droughts in northern China (1876–1878) and in northwestern China (1899–1900 and 1929–1930) had cost millions of lives, but in 1922 the North China Plain was saved by its railroads. By the 1930s China had over 20,000 kilometers of railways. Modern tar roads and rubber-tired carts and trucks greatly reduced short-distance transport cost. Old city walls were torn down to make way for new development. Nevertheless, political strife between warlords continued to tear China apart. Other than areas that supported mining, modern development remained concentrated in the coastal areas, particularly in Taiwan, Japanese-controlled Manchuria, and a few cities.

Second, after 1870 modern mining and other industries developed, such as the Pingyuan coal mines near Beijing, the Hanye iron works in Hubei, the Shuikoushan lead mines in Hunan, and the Dongchuan copper mines in Yunnan. Traditionally, mines and kilns for porcelain and bricks had used much wood fuel from their immediate surroundings, but the new large-scale mines needed even more and soon were served by railways, which imported additional supplies from other areas. After 1895 foreign industries were introduced into the western treaty ports. Under foreign protection, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou (Canton), and other cities rapidly developed into industrial and commercial centers. The 1933 industrial survey reported 3,800 modern factories located primarily in urban areas. New wide-ranging technologies were adopted in textiles, coal mining, iron melting, oil pressing, and flour milling. New products were introduced, and electricity and machinery changed people’s lives. The urban population expanded rapidly, leading to crowded housing, crime, and unsanitary conditions. Even so, city life was more secure than life in the countryside. But the political crisis between the Communists and the Nationalists (Guomindang) and the Japanese invasion of the 1930s, World War II, and the subsequent civil war retarded China’s modern industrial development; in 1949 only some coastal cities and Manchuria had modern industry.

Third, new crops, animal breeds, and cultivation techniques were brought into China by Chinese entrepreneurs living overseas, Western missionaries, and agricultural scientists. American cotton, Italian wheat, British pigs, Swiss goats, and Russian and Dutch dairy cattle gave higher returns than most local varieties; eventually many local varieties disappeared, although some qualiti
es were maintained in crossbreeds. Chinese cotton growers and soybean growers began to produce for the Japanese market and native factories. Through increasing commercialization, the standard of living improved slightly in most regions, including rural areas.

Fourth, China’s government became more economically exploitative and socially invasive. Traditional property regimes (or the consistent, stable pattern of their management) were replaced by new legal arrangements that allowed fuller exploitation of land and other natural resources. For instance, traditional Mongolian land rights were revoked and sold to Japanese, Russian, and Chinese chartered companies. Improved communications, modern arms, and new bureaucracies strengthened the reach of the State. Nationalism and other ideologies demanded that China should be strong and its people lifted from poverty. Rising expectations led to revolutionary movements and civil wars, in which warring parties mobilized available natural and human resources on an unprecedented scale.

Rural Misery

In spite of such efforts to modernize China, its image as a country plagued by bandits, soldiers, opium, and natural disasters remained valid. The 1931 and 1935 floods of the Yangzi River and the deliberate dike breaks in Shandong to force the Huang River into a southern course in 1938 destroyed millions of people, cattle, and homes. The Japanese invasion and atrocities such as the mass murders in Nanjing made millions flee to the interior, from where the Nationalist government continued its struggle. Stark poverty, high infant and child mortality, and many epidemic diseases were constant. About 1 million Chinese, mostly urban young adults working indoors, died of tuberculosis every year; cholera and malaria were common. Most farmers, working barefoot in the fields, spreading human excrement over their vegetables, living with their pigs, and drinking unsanitary water, were infested with parasites, affected by viruses, and often died before the age of sixty. Few families managed to attain the Confucian ideal of three generations living under one roof.

Loss of Forests and Vegetation Cover

By 1800 most of China’s original forests had already been cut down; some remained in the northeast and southwest. China’s forest cover decreased more rapidly because railroads made commercial exploitation feasible and also because land was reclaimed for agricultural use. By 1940 Manchuria’s forest cover and timber stocks had been halved, and by 1985 they were halved again. By 1962, in the upper basin of the Yangzi River, forest cover shrank from 50 percent to less than 20 percent, and in Sichuan it decreased from 34 percent to 12 percent. In particular the Great Leap Forward (1958–1961, an unsuccessful attempt to decentralize the economy by establishing a nationwide system of people’s communes) has been blamed for extensive felling of forests to acquire building material and fuel for new rural industries, most of which was wanton. Commercial logging, agricultural land reclamation, household fuel use, and desiccation all had great impact on China’s environment, and the consequent changes in river activity caused greater vulnerability to floods and droughts.

Under Communism’s establishment of nationwide communes during the Great Leap Forward, afforestation campaigns were organized on a massive scale. Villages were obliged to plant a hundred trees per inhabitant to provide fuel and to combat erosion, mostly along roads but also on waste hills. Often done without sustained follow-up, tree planting failed more often than it succeeded. For instance, along the northern deserts where pastures had been restored to create farmland, a giant shelterbelt (a barrier of planted trees and shrubs) was created to reduce wind velocity and protect the new farmland against desertification—an almost futile effort. Planting tea or fruit trees on wasteland did not always help against erosion either. The forest area grew to 125 million hectares in 1988 and to 160 million hectares in 2004, but most forests today are young and the timber of poor quality. In 1988 the government raised the price of timber, severely restricting its use for building purposes and railway sleepers, and began importing pulp and paper. Reserving land for forest growth (by now 1 million square kilometers) and selling long-term land leases of local forests, pastures, and wasteland to individual farmers have been adopted as solutions for collective squandering of resources and failing common property regimes, but with mixed success. China’s timber stock seems to be rising again, and some erosion-prone farmland in the hills has been taken out of cultivation. But global warming has intensified droughts in the north and floods in the south.

Population and Birth Control Measures

China’s population increased from 583 million in 1953 (the first census) to 1 billion in 1982 and more slowly to 1.2 billion in 2000. According to the World Factbook, natural growth is down to 0.6 percent per year now. Remarkably, as the Chinese people became more affluent and resource constraints lessened, birth control policies became stricter. In 1958 new household registration rules were adopted that required rural migrants to metropolitan areas to have urban work or school permits or settlement permits from authorities; this started the formal separation of rural and urban households. Strict urban rationing of food, cloth, and housing and strict controls on population movement succeeded in reducing the flow from rural to urban areas. Consequently, urbanization rates remained low, and the rural population increase had to be accommodated within each village, regardless of the availability of land and other economic resources. The Communist regime made great efforts in health care and education. Vaccination programs put an end to most childhood diseases, and primary school enrollment increased from 50 percent in 1952 to 85 percent in 1965 and became almost universal after 1975. Life expectancy at birth increased dramatically after the early 1960s, also because of improved diets and medical care, and during the 1990s it continued to rise (although more slowly) by another two years to 69.1 for men and 73.5 for women, which is close to levels in the industrialized world.

Many factors contributed to China’s fertility decline during the period from 1950 to 1990. Total Fertility Rates (TFR) dropped from 5.8 in the late 1960s to less than 3 by 1980 and below replacement value (or the number of children each woman must bear to maintain current population levels) in the 1990s (TFR is always measured per woman over her entire life time). Women’s liberation, education, full female employment in rural collectives and cities, cramped urban housing, decreases in child mortality, and greater availability and knowledge of contraceptive methods were contributing factors to the decline. But the presence of severe state measures, with heavy penalties and collective pressure and different policies for urban and rural areas, was also an influence. Politicians were and still are prompted by Malthusian (relating to the theories of English economist Thomas Malthus) concerns about limited natural resources and food supply. During the 1980s scientists calculated an “optimal” population of 700–800 million people. Chinese government at all levels feared the social burden of having more children. State family-planning policies started in 1971 with the slogan “late, sparse, and few,” meaning late marriages and only two children per couple. The rule of only one child was instituted for the urban population and state employees in 1978 and later spread to suburban and affluent rural areas. A “one-child certificate,” a contract that rewarded complying mothers but carried severe penalties for offenders, upheld the rule.

In many rural areas a second child is allowed only if the first is a girl. Consequently,
after ultrasound scans became widely available, the incidence of sex-selective abortion escalated. The birth ratio of boys to girls for second children rose from 1.2 in 1990 to over 1.5 in 2000. Popular acceptance of the one-child policy has increased in urban areas but not in rural areas. The 2001 family-planning law severely restricts citizens’ reproductive rights while extending legal protection and quality health services to mothers and infants who abide by the law. Its prohibition against using coercion to enforce birth control is mainly cosmetic because the law gives local governments unlimited powers to impose severe sanctions on offending couples.

China’s population policies supposedly have reduced its population growth by 300 million people. Based on a total fertility rate of 1.8 and adjusted for the slanted sex ratio, China’s population may be forecast to peak at 1.45 billion in 2033 and to decline thereafter. Thus within a century its share of world population will have dropped from one-fourth to one-sixth.

Effects of Socialist Planning in Agriculture and Industry

Central socialist planning is known for its great successes and even greater failures. Communist leader Mao Zedong’s megalomaniacal Great Leap Forward was different in that it combined central targets and directives with local autocracy and mass campaigns, but the results were still disastrous. In 1958 large communes organized farming along military style and started a mass campaign to produce iron in 600,000 small “backyard” furnaces. Urban population increased from 90 million in 1957 to 130 million in 1960. The cities could not accommodate this influx, and food shortages followed. The idea to open up new land, terrace hills, and build reservoirs everywhere proved counterproductive and environmentally destructive. Distribution networks broke down, grain output dropped, and the resulting famine cost 25 million lives during 1960 and 1961. There were long-lasting effects on natural resources; for instance, the decimated fish population of China’s largest lake, Qinghai, still has not recovered. It also created an obsession with local self-reliance in food grain.

The large fields created under collective farming, although more efficient in the use of oxen, machinery, irrigation, fertilizers, and pesticides, were more vulnerable to erosion and salt saturation, or salinization. Since 1958 about 35 million hectares (one-third of China’s farm acre-age) have been lost or diverted to other uses. Twice as much was reclaimed for agriculture, but much of it was poor soil in remote areas or on steep hill slopes. Chinese colonists were settled in border regions, from the Sanjiang marshes in the extreme north to the tropical forests of Hainan and the deserts of Xinjiang. Their irrigated agriculture destroyed the pastures and livelihood of native people. By the 1970s land reclamation, overgrazing, and reduced precipitation—another consequence of deforestation—had turned a half-million square kilometers of northern prairies into deserts and reduced grasslands by one-third to one-half on the remaining prairies. One-sixth of China suffered from serious soil erosion. One-quarter of China’s reservoir capacity had silted up, and natural lakes such as Dongtinghu had lost most of their flood-retention capacity. During the 1990s, on average, 5–15 million hectares were seriously stricken by flood every year, and 5–20 million hectares were affected by drought. Nevertheless, continuous increases in grain yield since the late 1960s were achieved with improved varieties, expanded irrigation, liberal applications of chemical fertilizers, and the use of electric pumps. Recently China has promoted bioengineering, and now half of its cotton and much of its soybeans and maize have been genetically modified to increase pest resistance.

Fearing foreign invasion, China set up many heavy industries in remote mountain areas after 1965. In socialism, although big was beautiful, all provinces and cities had to, or tried to, become self-reliant. Socialist planning invited local governments and factories to maximize output and distribute according to plan, regardless of efficiency or cost. Resources such as land, water, and ores had no value in their own right; only product and output were important. This led to wasteful use of energy, hoarding of raw materials, and blind production. Moreover, China was isolated, and without access to foreign technology most industries continued to copy or adapt the outdated Soviet technology of the 1950s. When China finally woke up to the demands of the market in the 1980s, it found poor locations had been chosen for large parts of its industrial apparatus, and that almost all were antiquated. Thus traditional industries could not compete with the new industries established with foreign technology (and increasingly with foreign capital) in the coastal regions.

As direct state involvement in the economy declined, the central government concentrated on planning and implementing large projects. In spite of government efforts to restrict urban inflow, increasing differentials in development and income made tens of millions of poor farmers migrate to nearby cities or to eastern China. Average rural income in poor provinces was only one-tenth (or less) of that in large cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou. Although government subsidization of antipoverty programs in rural villages was effective in providing a minimal sustenance of life, primary education, and health care, the rural population still depended entirely on the collective provisions of its own villages and was not entitled to any urban employment or social security. However, as agriculture became less and less rewarding, more was needed. At the end of the 1990s the government tried to redirect the rural outflow toward rural towns and to create employment there instead. Urbanization is now accepted as inevitable and even positive for socioeconomic development. More recent political priorities are urban housing, drinking water, sanitation, and improved indoor air quality with a transition from coal to gas use.

A monumental plan to “develop the west” (The Great West Development Plan) is attempting to expand the physical and social infrastructure of twelve western provinces and integrate them into China’s economy; the government hopes to have the west fully caught up with the east by 2050. New railroads, highways, mines, and factories will lead to fuller utilization of the resources of western China. Coal-fired power plants send their electricity to the east, pipelines began transporting gas and oil from Xinjiang to Shanghai in 2004, and a railway from Lhasa to Qinghai finally connected Tibet with China in 2006. Reducing the negative environmental consequences of forced rapid development will be a great challenge to local governments. The giant Sanxia (Three Gorges) hydropower station on the Yangzi River is nearing completion, and over 1 million people must be relocated from its reservoir. Original plans for resettlement of farmers in upland areas have been modified after the 1998 Yangzi River flood disaster alerted authorities to the dangers of water and soil erosion because of farming the hills. Another grand scheme transfers water from the Yangzi River basin to dry northern China; this is a long-cherished dream but it poses enormous problems. So far pumping water north through the Grand Canal has proven rather costly. In 2000 engineering work started on a middle route to transport water from the Hanshui River at Danjiangkou to Henan and across the Huang River.

Industrial Pollution and Remedial Measures

In 1972 pollution accidents affected Beijing’s fish supply from the Guanting Reservoir and the shellfish from Dalian Bay. The government disclosed that mercury and other heavy metals dumped into the Sungari and Nenni rivers were poisoning both fish and people. Such an admission reflected a beginning aware
ness of the need to check pollution and prepared China for participation in the 1972 United Nations conference on the environment and adoption of its first environmental regulations. A 1977 survey of sea pollution found high industrial discharges of heavy metals and serious oil spills; 15,000 square kilometers of oil covered the Bo Hai (an arm of the Yellow Sea), a traditional source of shrimp and fish for the banquets of China’s politicians and administrators.

Early corrective policies focused on management of river systems, waste-release standards for new or expanding large industries, cleanup of major cities, reduction in pesticide use, food safety inspection, and research and monitoring. After 1979 industrial expansion plans were screened for their discharge standards; regulators first focused on the metallurgy, oil, textile, paper, food, building materials, and machinery industries. However, compliance was uneven and depended on the development level and financial resources of the responsible local government.

A trial environmental law was passed in 1979. It focused on prevention, along with the principle of “the polluter pays.” Surface water-quality standards were introduced in 1983 and 1986, and local governments were made responsible for monitoring water quality and preventing further degradation. Three standards of ambient air quality were set for different types of areas, and polluting businesses were charged for emissions above the acceptable level. Laws for conservation of forests, grasslands, fisheries, and wild animals were passed during the mid-1980s, and by 2000 over twelve hundred nature reserves occupied 10 percent of China’s territory, one-half of which were in Tibet and Xinjiang. Environmental laws were introduced for the marine environment (1982), water pollution (1984), air pollution (1987), solid waste (1995), and noise (1996). Environmental-impact assessments were required for a growing number of construction projects. In 2000 a total emission-control permit system was introduced for certain areas, whereby emission quotas are distributed or traded.

The 1980s were a period of rapid, visible, and cost-effective early advances in pollution prevention and treatment efforts. From 1982 to 1984 the State Council ruled that 6 or 7 percent of investments in capital construction and renovation projects should go to pollution prevention and treatment. Environmental protection became a standard part of the government’s five-year plans. By 1987, 0.8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) was spent on environmental protection, and its proponents demanded that this eventually should rise to 1.5 to 2 percent. But subsequently this percentage fell, and only at the end of the 1990s did it increase to a level of around 1 percent. In 2003, the State Council pledged to invest 1.35 percent of China’s GDP in environmental protection from 2006 to 2010.

Weak Enforcement of Rules

Because the actual sanctions against enterprises that polluted were weak, the follow-up to early advances in prevention was difficult. And with pollution fines less than treatment costs, it paid to pollute. State-owned businesses saw pollution charges (which totaled 6 billion yuan in 2001) as just one more state tax. Management was lax, inspections were few and sloppy, and treatment installations were turned off at times to save costs. As in other socialist countries, in China local governments were the owners of the enterprise, the monitors of its environmental performance, and the judges at the same time, and they feared that investments in the environment might come at the expense of employment and profits. The staffs of local environmental-protection bureaus were increased, but much of the time their hands were tied; decisions were made by bureaucracies rather than by law or public opinion. The differences in technological levels and scale within many industrial branches in China further complicated an imposition of uniform standards. China set ambitious targets for reduction of emissions by its industries, but monitoring has been uneven, and small industries and farmers are hardly covered.

Industrial pollution has been spreading. By the mid-1990s one-half of China’s industrial production came from township and village enterprises, largely outside of the control of local environmental protection bureaus. It took time, considerable political effort, and concentrated action to close down the worst-polluting industries in the most affected areas of eastern China. Prompted by unacceptable levels of water pollution and drinking water disasters, cleanup programs were started for major cities, Taihu Lake, and medium-size river basins. As of 2004, more than 80 percent of the industrial wastewater discharged by urban industries was up to standard, compared with 50 percent in 1990. Polluting industries were driven to interior provinces and rural areas.

Problems are greatest in dry northern China, where industries and households make great demands on shrinking water resources. Economically, the most logical solution is to raise water prices and reduce the allocation to farmers, but this solution has met with political and practical objections. Since the 1990s the lower reaches of the Huang River run dry for several months a year and have become a sandy sewer. All main lakes and one-half of the sections of the Huai River, the Hai River, the Liao River, and several other rivers in eastern China are worse than the lowest quality standard. Northern and western China also burn much coal. In spite of greater energy efficiency and coal washing, rapid industrial growth (around 10 percent a year) pushed China’s total sulfur dioxide and soot emissions to 18 and 9.9 billion metric tons, respectively, in 2000. Highest levels are found in the interior coal-burning cities in Shaanxi, Hebei, Chongqing, Guizhou, and Sichuan provinces.

China’s fast economic growth, improvements in education, foreign investment, and increased environmental awareness (leading to greater political pressure on municipal leaders to clean up their cities) were eventually the more important contributors—rather than legislation or punitive sanctions—to technological innovation, improved efficiency, and cleaner production of China’s industries. Shortages in energy (in particular electricity and oil) and water during the past two decades led to a more economic use of resources and a shift to more efficient technology. China has become an importer of raw materials such as cotton, pulp, steel, and oil and an exporter of finished industrial products.

Natural Disasters

The worst natural disaster in China in recent decades was the 1976 Tangshan earthquake, which by some estimates killed 240,000 people and destroyed somewhere between 600,000 and 10 million homes; some estimates place the number of dead as high as 750,000. (The death toll from the earthquake of 12 May 2008 was estimated to be about 70,000 and the number of homes destroyed about 3.5 million.) The annual death toll from earthquakes and landslides is about one thousand; severe droughts affect 10 million hectares of farmland every year, and serious floods about 5 million hectares, with one to three thousand lives lost and 3 million homes destroyed. Although the death toll of these natural disasters pales in comparison to the traffic death toll (which is almost 100,000 per year), their economic costs are enormous due to the damage to homes and other buildings, infrastructure, crops, and domestic farm animals. Official estimates report that annual direct economic damages have increased from 50 billion yuan in the 1950s to 60 billion yuan in the 1970s and over 100 billion yuan in the 1990s. But if one includes indirect losses because of deforestation, desiccation, pollution, and natural resource degradation, annual economic losses quadrupled to almost 20 percent of China’s GDP in the 1990s.

The vul
nerability to destruction from floods will be reduced as people move out of low-lying areas along major rivers and as stricter building limits are imposed. China’s eighty-four thousand reservoirs have helped to reduce floods and store water for irrigation, but many reservoirs have become old, silted up, and outright dangerous. Dikes along main rivers have offered greater protection, but riverbeds have been raised by sediments and constricted by bridges and other structures. Increased afforestation programs and decreased grain cultivation in erosion-prone areas will help reduce both flood and drought damage.

International Cooperation

China’s environmental efforts have received considerable support—both institutional support, such as in legislation and training programs, and support for investment projects—from foreign countries and international organizations such as the World Bank. Other countries, for instance, have largely financed the elimination of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) coolants in China’s refrigerator industry.

China’s principles in global environmental issues were laid down in 1990: the environment should be considered in the process of economic development; developed countries are largely responsible for current pollution; the interests of developing countries should not be hampered by so-called green demands; the world economic order should promote the participation of developing countries in solving global problems; and China as a large country will contribute to the global effort by reducing its own environmental problems. China has supported most international treaties, and its membership in the World Trade Organization has brought it closer to international product standards. Its international stand is a clever combination of global concerns and self-interest in continued economic growth, which invites Western countries and companies to contribute to and participate in environmental improvements in China.

Further Reading

Central Intelligence Agency (n.d.). The world factbook: China. Retrieved on January 30, 2009, from https:www.cia.govlibrarypublicationsthe-world-fact bookgeosch.html#Intro

China Environment Yearbook Society. (1990–2000). Zhongguo Huanjing Nianjian [China environment yearbooks]. Beijing: China Environment Yearbook Publisher.

Dodgen, R. A. (2001). Controlling the dragon: Confucian engineers and the Yellow River in the late imperial China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Edmonds, R. (Ed.). (1998). Managing the Chinese environment. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Elvin. M., & Liu, T. (1998). Sediments of time: Environment and society in Chinese history. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Fairbank, J., & Feuerwerker, A. (Eds.). (1983–1987). The Cambridge history of China (Vols. 12–15). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lee, J., & Wang, F. (Eds.). (1999). One quarter of humanity: Malthusian mythology and Chinese realities. 1700–2000. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ma, X. Y., & Ortolano, L. (2000). Environmental regulation in China: Institutions, enforcement and compliance. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.

Mallory, W. H. (1922). China: Land of famine. New York: American Geographical Society.

Marks, R. (1997). Tigers, rice, silk, and silt: Environment and economy in late imperial south China. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

McEllroy, M. B., Nielsen, C. P., & Lydon, P. (Eds.). (1998). Energizing China: Reconciling environmental protection and economic growth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Myers, R. H. (1970). The Chinese peasant economy: Agricultural development in Hopei and Shantung, 1890–1949. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Shapiro, J. (2001). Mao’s war against nature: Politics and the environment in revolutionary China. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Smil, V. (1984). The bad Earth: Environmental degradation in China. New York: M. E. Sharpe.

Smil, V. (1993). China’s environmental crisis: An inquiry into the limits of national development. New York: M. E. Sharpe.

State Environmental Protection Administration. (2006). Report on the state of the environment in China 2006. Retrieved on January 21, 2009, from 2006 200711t20071106_112569.htm

State Environmental Protection Bureau (1994). Zhongguo Huanjing Baohu Xingzheng Ershi-nian [Twenty years of environmental protection administration]. Beijing: China Environmental Sciences Press.

Vermeer, E. B. (1988). Economic development in provincial China: The central Shaanxi since 1930. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Vermeer, E. B. (1998, December). Industrial pollution in China and remedial policies. The China Quarterly, 156, 952–985.

Wang Congju & Huang Zhiliang. (2003). Comparison between the West and East of China and Great West Development Plan. Chongqin, China: Chongqin Publishing.

Wang, H. C. (1992). Deforestation and desiccation in China: A preliminary study. Retrieved February 4, 2003, from www.library.utoronto.capcsstatechina ecoforest.htm

World Bank. (1997). Clear water, blue skies, China’s environment in the new century. Washington, DC: Author.

Xia, G. (1998). An estimate of the economic consequences of environmental pollution in China. Retrieved February 4, 2003, from www.library.utoronto.capcsstatechinaecopollut.htm

Xiong, D. T. (1989). Zhongguo jindai linyeshi [A history of forestry in modern China]. Beijing: Zhongguo linye chubanshe.

Source: Vermeer, Eduard B.. (2009). Environmental History—Modern. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 736–746. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Terraced wheat fields in China. Over the centuries, forests have been cut down to make way for arable land, but the deforestation has led to soil erosion and flooding. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

A tree-planting project in Beijing. China’s urban centers benefit from “greening,” as do forest lands lost to razing. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Skyscrapers wreathed in fog in Hong Kong. Overcrowding and air pollution have become major concerns in Chinese cities. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Peasants in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province. The standard of living has improved in China in recent decades, but there are still significant disparities between the rural and urban populations. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Environmental History—Modern (Xiàndài huánjìngsh? ?????)|Xiàndài huánjìngsh? ????? (Environmental History—Modern)

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