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China’s Environmental Challenges

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205 PAGES, ISBN 978-0745660912, PAPERBACK

Reviewed by Andrew M. McGreevy

Judith Shapiro is imminently qualified to address China’s environmental problems because she has spent years in China, is well-known for previous publications, and is a specialist in global environmental politics. The most significant feature of China’s Environmental Challenges is her multidisciplinary approach. Most of the book encompasses the time period after 1900, and the author effectively contrasts environmental policies in the People’s Republic of China and the reality of environmental practices. The book is particularly good for those who want a longer-term perspective on the topic.

I have taught Chinese history in a variety of formats to a wide range of students. From my experience, Professor Shapiro’s China’s Environmental Challenges is best-suited for students with prior knowledge of Chinese history, environmental science, and perhaps international relations. Shapiro’s book is based on five concepts: globalization, governance, national identity, civil society, and environmental justice (12). She draws upon political science, international relations, environmental politics, environmental anthropology, philosophy, religion, literature, human geography, political ecology, sociology, environmental justice, social ecology, environmental history, and environmental economics to explain environmental issues in contemporary China. Shapiro’s scope is impressive. For example, readers are asked to consider Daoism, tiger bones, deforestation, and accounting systems on one page (27).

Consider the following quotation, which serves to introduce students to the relationship between environmental issues and a significant Chinese belief system:

Chinese Buddhism (one of many schools of Buddhism, which is practiced differently in Sri Lanka, India, Tibet, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, and elsewhere), retains the notion of the reincarnation of souls. Chinese Buddhist monks and nuns are often vegetarian, and many devout practitioners visit temples to have a vegetarian meal. On some festival days, Buddhists will purchase and release a bird, fish, or turtle as a way of gaining merit and as an acknowledgement of the connections among living beings and the desire to practice loving kindness to animals. There is a close relationship between nature and morality, with compassion to others held as one of the most important virtues. (88)

China’s Environmental Challenges consists of a preface and seven chapters: “Introduction: The Big Picture,” “Environmental Challenges: Drivers and Trends,” “State-led Environmentalism: The View from Above,” “Sustainable Development and National Identity,” “Public Participation and Civil Society: The View from Below,” “Environmental Justice and the Displacement of Environmental Harm,” and “Prospects for the Future.” Only one map of China is provided, but there is a chronology of history and environmental events from 1894 to the present. Each chapter is followed by research questions and additional resources, which are a rich find of up-todate online publications, websites, blogs, newspaper articles, videos, and films, etc.—all of the electronic media that are used by many of today’s students. These resources will be of great value for visual materials. \

There are other excellent resources on China’s environment that space does not permit me to address here, but attributes of Shapiro’s book include its recent publication date, intermediate length, the author’s interdisciplinary focus, and her sharp eye for the often-glaring contradictions between the PRC’s environmental policies and its actual practices.