Journal of Geographical Sciences

, Volume 29, Issue 8, pp 1261–1283 | Cite as

Assessing China’s human-environment relationship

  • Yu Yang
  • Xiaoyun LiEmail author
  • Wen Dong
  • Jessie P. H. PoonEmail author
  • Hui Hong
  • Ze He
  • Yi Liu


China’s coupled human-environment system (CHES) is assessed here via a systems schema that emphasizes the complex interactions of components and their attributes. In addition to the human and environment components, we identified two other components to evaluate the relationship. The four components are human activity intensity, resource carrying capacity, ecological constraints and system’s openness. Based on their interactions, we derived a cognitive schema for classifying the level of strain or stress of an area. The analysis draws on 11 indicators and 29 sub-indicators including remote sensing data and statistical data that are used to estimate the four components. The findings indicate that human activities are highly intense in a few geographical areas, particularly large urban systems and trade and investment zones on the eastern coastal areas. Nonetheless, these areas are also well-endowed in water resources and fertile soils although urban systems are increasingly stressed from negative pollution externalities. They are also open systems which allow them to bear a higher level of pressure and adjust accordingly. Desertification and soil erosion point to relatively fragile biophysical systems in the west and southwest, but human activities are still relatively less intense compared to their coastal counterparts. As a whole, only 14% of areas may be said to be relatively or highly strained. This however belies another one-third of areas that are currently unstable, and likely to become strained and thereby vulnerable in the near future.


coupled human-environment relationship systems human activity intensity, resource-carrying capacity ecological constraint openness China 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Chen S Y, 2009. Energy consumption, CO2 emission and sustainable development in Chinese industry. Economic Research Journal, (4): 41–55.Google Scholar
  2. Demestis D S, Lee A S, 2016. Crafting theory to satisfy the requirements of systems science. Information and Organization, (26): 116–126.Google Scholar
  3. Feng Z M, Liu D, Yang Y Z, 2009. Evaluation of transportation ability of China: From county to province level. Geographical Research, 28(2): 419–429. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  4. Fu B J, Liu S L, Ma K M, 2001. The contents and methods of integrated ecosystem assessment (IEA). Acta Eco-logica Sinica, 21(11): 1885–1892. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  5. Galvani A P, Bauch C T, Anand M et al., 2016. Human-environment interactions in population and ecosystem health. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113(51): 14502–14506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Harden C P, 2012. Framing and reframing questions of human-environment interactions. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 102(4): 737–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Jin F J, Wang C J, Li X W, 2008. Discrimination method and its application analysis of regional transport superiority. Acta Geographica Sinica, 63(8): 787–798. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  8. Li J Y, Li L J, 2012. Water resources supporting capacity to regional socio-economic development of China. Acta Geographica Sinica, 67(3): 410–419. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  9. Li X Y, Yang Y, Liu Y, 2017. Research progress in man-land relationship evolution and its resource-environment base in China. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 27(8): 899–924.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Li Y B, Xie J, Luo G J et al., 2015. The evolution of a karst rocky desertification land ecosystem and its driving forces in the Houzhaihe area. Open Journal of Ecology, 5(10): 501–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Liu D, Feng Z M, Yang Y Z, 2012. Ecological balance between supply and demand in China using ecological footprint method. Journal of Natural Resources, 27(4): 614–624. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  12. Liu J G, Hull V, Carter N H et al., 2016. Framing sustainability of couple human-environment systems. In: Liu J G, Hull V, Yang W et al. (eds). Pandas and People: Coupled Human and Natural Systems for Sustainability. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 15–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Liu J J, Dong S C, Li Z H, 2011. Comprehensive evaluation of China–s water resources carrying capacity. Journal of Natural Resources, 26(2): 258–269. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  14. Liu J Y, Zhang Z X Z D F, 2003. A study on the spatial-temporal dynamic changes of land-use and driving forces analyses of China in the 1990s. Geographical Research, 22(1): 1–12. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  15. Liu Y S, Chen B M, 2002. The study framework of land use/cover change based on sustainable development in China. Geographical Research, 21(3): 324–330. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  16. Ministry of Environment Protection of the People’s Republic of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2014. The Remote Sensing Investigation and Evaluation of National Ecological Environment Decade Changing (2000–2010). Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  17. Moran E, 2011. Human-Environment Interactions and Sustainability. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  18. Moran E F, Elinor O, 2005. Seeing the Forest and the Trees: Human-Environment Interactions in Forest Ecosystems. MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. National Research Council of the National Academies, US (NRCNA), 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. California: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  20. Newell B, Crumley C L, Hassan N et al., 2005. A conceptual template for integrative human-environment research. Global Environmental Change, 15(4): 299–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nir D, 2002. Region as a Socio-Environment System. Boston: Kluwer Publishing.Google Scholar
  22. Roman S, Palmer E, Brede M, 2018. The dynamics of human-environment interactions in the collapse of the classic Maya. Ecological Economics, 146: 312–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Skyttner L, 2005. General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.Google Scholar
  24. Sun D Q, Zhang J X, Zhu C G et al., 2012. An assessment of China’s ecological environment quality change and its spatial variation. Acta Geographica Sinica, 67(12): 1599–1610. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  25. Tian Q, 2017. Rural Sustainability: A Complex Systems Approach to Policy Analysis. Amsterdam: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Turner II B L, 2010. Vulnerability and resilience: Coalescing or paralleling approaches for sustainability science? Global Environmental Change, 20(4): 570–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Turner II B L, Lambin E F, Reenberg A, 2007. The emergence of land change science for global environmental change and sustainability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 104(52): 20666–20671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Turner II B L, Matsond P A, McCarthye J J, 2003. Illustrating the coupled human-environment system for vulnerability analysis: Three case studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 100(14): 8080–8085.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Wang N, 2004. The role of construction industry in China and sustainable urban development. Habitat International, 44: 442–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Wang W, Zhang X, Wu Y et al., 2017. Development priority zoning in China and its impact on urban growth. Cities, 62: 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wang X, Chen F, Dong Z, 2006. The relative role of climatic and human factors in desertification in semiarid China. Global Environmental Change, 16(1): 48–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Wu C J, 2008. Man-earth Relationship and Economic Layout: Collections of Wu Chuanjun. Beijing: Xueyuan Press. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  33. Xu Y, Sun X Y, Tang Q, 2015. Human activity intensity of land surface: Concept, method and application in China. Acta Geographica Sinica, 70(7): 1068–1079. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  34. Xu Y, Zhang X F, Li L J et al., 2016. Regional differentiation and classification for constraints of national resources and environment carrying. Bulletin of Chinese Academy of Sciences, 31(1): 34–43. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  35. Yang Q S, Mei L, 2001. Human-activity-geographical-environment relationship, its system and its regional system. Economic Geography, 21(5): 532–537. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  36. Yang Y, Liu Y, 2016. Progress in China’s sustainable development research: Contribution of Chinese geographers. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 26(8): 1176–1196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Yu X S, 1991. Calculation of the population carrying capacity of the land resource and its significance in the study of man-nature relation: A case in Binhai and Suzhou of Jiangsu province. Journal of Natural Resources, 6(2): 117–126. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  38. Zhang K H, 2014. Globalization and regional industrial performance: Evidence from China. Paper in Regional Science, 93(2): 269–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Zhang W Z, Yu J H, Wang D et al., 2014. Study on Sustainable Development of Resource-based Cities in China. Beijing: Science Press. (in Chinese)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Science Press Springer-Verlag 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources ResearchCASBeijingChina
  2. 2.College of Resources and EnvironmentUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.Academic Divisions of the Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.Department of GeographyUniversity at Buffalo-SUNYBuffaloUSA
  5. 5.China International Engineering Consulting CorporationBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations