China's Past, China's Future: Energy, Food, Environment

China's Past, China's Future: Energy, Food, Environment

China's Past, China's Future: Energy, Food, Environment

China's Past, China's Future: Energy, Food, Environment


China has a population of 1.3 billion people which puts strain on her natural resources. This volume, by one of the leading scholars on the earth's biosphere, is the result of a lifetime of study, and provides the fullest account yet of the environmental challenges that China faces. The author examines China's energy resources, their uses, impacts and prospects, from the 1970s oil crisis to the present day, before analysing the key question of how China can best produce enough food to feed its enormous population.


All but two of my books have had the same randomly methodical genesis. Months or years after coming up with the initial idea (as far as I can recall the shortest period was less than half a year, the longest one nearly a decade) I eventually put together a brief proposal for a publisher, and then got down to intensive writing, with the book's title being usually the last thing. The first exception was The Bad Earth, the first book on China's environment: after reading my paper on that topic in Asian Survey, Doug Merwin of M.E. Sharpe suggested that I write the book, and he also chose its title. This book is the second, and even more notable, exception.

I would have eventually done a broad survey of China's environment even without Doug's prompting - but I am not so self-indulgent to come up with the idea of a retrospective volume of my China writings. In fact, if Craig Fowlie and Mark Selden had asked me merely for that I would have hesitated, and likely said no. But their idea of the Critical Asian Scholarship series as the combination of rethinking and commenting on previously published work together with new, or unpublished, material was immediately appealing - and I began working on the book in July 2002, within weeks of finishing Energy at the Crossroads. Mark also suggested, upfront, what I think is a very apposite title.

My thanks go also to Doug Fast, who reproduced all old illustrations and who created a number of new ones, and to journal and book publishers who gave permissions to reprint selections from about twenty-five different publications. These reprints take almost three fifths of the book. The remainder is made up of unpublished (and updated) pieces, and of new essays on China's rural fuel use, energy intensity of the country's economy, the 1959-1961 famine, dietary transition, nitrogen in China's agriculture, and on worrisome and desirable megaprojects.

Thanks to Zoe Botterill for guiding the typescript through the publication process.

Finally, a few technical details. For the sake of consistency, all Chinese names are transcribed in pinyin. The metric system is used for all measurements, and because so many units, scientific prefixes and acronyms are used in the book I have provided detailed explanations of these. The Harvard system of referencing is not used only in a few instances where the reprints of complete, or slightly abridged, articles retain their original referencing or a numbered combination of references and notes.

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