Introduction—Environment, Modernization, and Development in East Asia: Perspectives from Environmental History

  • James Beattie
  • Ts’ui-jung Liu
Part of the Palgrave Studies in World Environmental History book series (PSWEH)


Across East Asia, modernization and development projects continue to have great environmental and human impacts. Serious health problems resulting from pollution affect many Chinese, including those living in Beijing, whose ‘airpocalypse’ has attracted worldwide attention.1 As a measure of its significance, in 2013, Premier Li Keqiang declared that only through ‘the concerted effort of the whole society’ could the problem be addressed.2 Since then, government has made improvements to air quality, but sometimes at the expense of moving the problem elsewhere, through relocating heavy-polluting industries away from the capital, although recent efforts have also been directed at cutting pollution and restricting the number of registered cars.3


Gross Domestic Product History Research Environmental Governance Japanese Imperialism Environmental History 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Yu Runze, ‘Vice Premier Li Keqiang Vows to Combat Air Pollution’, Sina English, 15 January 2013, cited in Elizabeth Economy, ‘Environmental Governance in China: State Control to Crisis Management’, Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences 143, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 4.
    Vaclav Smil, China’s Past, China’s Future: Energy, Food, Environment (New York and London: Routledge Curzon, 2004), 145.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Jack Goody, The Theft of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006);Google Scholar
  4. Robert B. Marks, The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological History from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Century (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    General works which include strong consideration of environmental dimensions in East Asian modernization include: Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past: A Social and Economic Interpretation (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1973);Google Scholar
  6. Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000);Google Scholar
  7. R. Bin Wong, China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1997);Google Scholar
  8. A. G. Frank, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998);Google Scholar
  9. Pomeranz, ‘The Transformation of China’s Environment’, in The Environment and World History, ed. Edmund Burke III and Pomeranz (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009), 118–64.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Jeffrey Wasserstrom bases his contrast of present-day China with the China of two hundred years ago on Bayly’s work, see Jeffrey Wasserstrom, ‘China & Globalization’, Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences 143, no. 2 (Spring 2014): 157–69; andCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. C. A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780–1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004).Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    For Chinese and Japanese environmental history overviews, see: Mark Elvin, ‘Introduction’, in Sediments of Time: Environment and Society in Chinese History, ed. Mark Elvin and Ts’ui-jung Liu (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 1–30; John R. McNeill, ‘China’s Environmental History in World Perspective’, in Sediments of Time, 31–52;Google Scholar
  13. Bao Maohong, ‘Environmental History in China’, Environment and Society 10, no. 4 (2004): 475–99;Google Scholar
  14. Conrad Totman, Japan: An Environmental History (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2014);Google Scholar
  15. Ian Jared Miller, Julia Adeney Thomas, and Brett L. Walker eds., Japan at Nature’s Edge: The Environmental Context of a Global Power (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2013).Google Scholar
  16. 12.
    John R. McNeill, ‘Environmental History in general and in Asia’, in Environmental History as if Nature Existed, ed. John R. McNeill, Mahesh Rangarajan, and José Augusto Pádua (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2010), 21–2.Google Scholar
  17. 13.
    Mark Elvin, The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2004); The Pattern of the Chinese Past; and ‘Sustainability versus Adaptation: Comments on the Chinese Experience’, Nova Acta Leopoldina 114, no. 390 (2013): 105–28.Google Scholar
  18. 14.
    Note, for example: Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past; Ts’ui-jung Liu and Mark Elvin, eds., Chi Chien So Chih: Chung-kuo Huan-ching Shih Lun-wen Chi (Taipei: The Institute of Economics, Academia Sinica, 1995); Elvin and Liu, eds., Sediments of Time;Google Scholar
  19. Robert B. Marks, Tigers, Rice, Silk, and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 15.
    John R. McNeill, ‘State of the Field of Environmental History’, Annual Review of Environment and Resources 35 (2010): 345–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 16.
    Judith Shapiro, China’s Environmental Challenge (Cambridge and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2012);Google Scholar
  22. Elizabeth C. Economy, The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  23. 17.
    Micah S. Muscolino, Fishing Wars and Environmental Change in Late Imperial and Modern China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2009) and The Ecology of War in China: Henan Province, the Yellow River, and Beyond, 1938–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).Google Scholar
  24. 18.
    See, for example, Tohru Morioka et al., eds., Establishing a Resource-Circulating Society in Asia: Challenges and Opportunities (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2011);Google Scholar
  25. Barbara Schuler, ed., Environmental and Climate Change in South and Southeast Asia: How are Local Cultures Coping? (Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill, 2014);Google Scholar
  26. Ma Xiaoying and Leonard Ortolano, Environmental Regulation in China: Institutions, Enforcement, and Compliance (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000);Google Scholar
  27. Barbara J. Sinkule and Leonard Ortolano, Implementing Environmental Policy in China (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995);Google Scholar
  28. S. Beyer, ‘Environmental Law and Policy in the People’s Republic of China’, Chinese Journal of International Law 5 (2006): 185–211;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. K. A. Day, ed., China’s Environment and the Challenge of Sustainable Development (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2005);Google Scholar
  30. G. Harris, ‘Environmental Perspectives and Behavior in China: Synopsis and Bibliography’, Environment and Behavior 38 (2006): 5–21;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. R. B. Harris, Wildlife Conservation in China: Preserving the Habitat of China’s Wild West (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2007).Google Scholar
  32. 19.
    Richard Louis Edmonds, Patterns of China’s Lost Harmony: A Survey of the Country’s Environmental Degradation and Protection (London: Routledge, 1994);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. He Bochuan, China on the Edge: The Crisis of Ecology and Development, trans. Jenny Holdaway, Guo Jian-sheng, Susan Brick, Hu Si-gang, and Charles Wong (San Francisco, CA: China Books and Periodicals, 1991);Google Scholar
  34. Vaclav Smil, China’s Environmental Crisis: An Inquiry into the Limits of National Development (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1993); Smil, China’s Past, China’s Future;Google Scholar
  35. Chris Coggins, The Tiger and the Pangolin: Nature, Culture, and Conservation in China (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003); Barbara Schuler, Environmental and Climate Change in South and Southeast Asia; Sinkule and Ortolano, Implementing Environmental Policy in China; S. Beyer, ‘Environmental law and policy’.Google Scholar
  36. 20.
    For example, Brett L. Walker, ‘Meiji Modernization, Scientific Agriculture, and the Destruction of Japan’s Hokkaido Wolf’, Environmental History 9, no. 2 (2004): 248–74; and Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2011); Mark Elvin, Retreat of the Elephants; Shapiro, China’s Environmental Challenge;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Robert B. Marks, China: Its Environment and History (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).Google Scholar
  38. 21.
    Conrad Totman, The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Pre-Industrial Japan (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989); The Lumber Industry in Early Modern Japan (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 1995); Japan’s Imperial Forest Goryōrin, 1889–1945 (Folkestone, England: Global Oriental, 2007); and Japan: An Environmental History (London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2014).Google Scholar
  39. 22.
    Conrad Totman, Pre-Industrial Korea and Japan in Environmental Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2004).Google Scholar
  40. 23.
    Brett L. Walker, The Conquest of Ainu Lands: Ecology and Culture in Japanese Expansion, 1590–1800 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  41. 25.
    Ian Jared Miller, Julia Adeney Thomas, and Brett L. Walker, eds., Japan at Nature’s Edge: The Environmental Context of a Global Power (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2013).Google Scholar
  42. 27.
    Tian Feng and Li Xu-ming, eds., Environmental History: A Discourse of the History of Interrelationships Between Humans and Nature(Beijing: Commercial Press, 2011).Google Scholar
  43. 28.
    Wang Xingguang, China’s Agricultural History and Environmental History(Zhengzhou: Daxiang Publisher, 2012).Google Scholar
  44. 29.
    Chang Su-Bing, Three Hundred Years of the Zhuoshui River: History, Society, and the Environment (New Taipei City: Acropolis Publisher, 2014).Google Scholar
  45. 30.
    Bao Maohong 包茂紅, The Origins of Environmental History and its Development[環境史學的起源和發展] (Beijing: Beijing University Press, 2012), chapter 8.Google Scholar
  46. 31.
    Wang Lihua 王利華, ‘Exploitation and Judgement of Facts in Ecological History’ (生態史的事實發掘和事實判斷), Historical Research [歷史研究] 3 (2013): 19–25;Google Scholar
  47. Chao Xiaohong 鈔曉鴻 ‘On Deepening Environmental History Research’ (深化環境史研究芻議), Historical Research 3 (2013): 4–12.Google Scholar
  48. 32.
    Hauiyin Li, ‘From Revolution to Modernization: The Paradigmatic Transition in Chinese Historiography in the Reform Era’, History and Theory 49, no. 3 (2010): 336–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 33.
    Wang Lihua 王利華, ‘On establishing a framework of Chinese environmental history’ (淺議中國環境史學建構), Historical Research 1 (2010): 10–14;Google Scholar
  50. Zou Yilin 鄒逸麟, ‘Some problems relating to environmental history’ (有關環境史研究的幾個問題), Historical Research 1 (2010): 15–18;Google Scholar
  51. Micah S. Muscolino 穆盛博, ‘New trends in Chinese environmental history research’ (中國環境史研究的新趨勢), Jianghan Tribune [江漢論壇] 5 (2014): 41–2.Google Scholar
  52. 35.
    Lan Yong 藍勇, ‘Four understandings for China’s regional environmental history’ (對中國區域環境史研究的四點認識), Historical Research 1 (2010): 18–23.Google Scholar
  53. 36.
    Jonathan Schlesinger 謝健, ‘New Qing history at the forefront of Chinese environmental history’ (新清史與中國環境史前沿), Jianghan Tribune 5 (2014): 42–6.Google Scholar
  54. 38.
    This series, The Environmental History of Japan [環境の日本史], was published in Tokyo by Yoshikawa Kobunkan 吉川弘文館 in 2012–13. Vol. 1: Hirakawa Minami 平川南, ed., Japanese History and Environment: Human and Nature [日本史と環境─人と自然] (2012). The other four volumes are: vol. 2:Google Scholar
  55. Miyake Kazuo 三宅和朗, ed., Ancient Livelihood and Prayer [古代の暮らしと祈り] (2013); vol. 3:Google Scholar
  56. Ihara Kesao 井原今朝男, ed., Medieval Environmental Development and Subsistence[中世の環境と開発・生業] (2013); vol. 4:Google Scholar
  57. Mizumoto Kunihiko水本邦彦, ed., Living People and the Early Modern Natural World [人々の営みと近世の自然] (2013); vol. 5:Google Scholar
  58. Torigoe Hiroyuki 鳥越皓之, ed., Utilization and Destruction of Nature—Modern and Contemporary Folk Customs[自然利用と破壊—近現代と民俗] (2013).Google Scholar
  59. 39.
    Qian, Zhongshu, ‘Lin Shu’s Translations’, in Patchwork: Seven Essays on Art and Literature, trans. Duncan M. Campbell (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. 40.
    Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 219.Google Scholar
  61. 41.
    Robert Weller, Discovering Nature: Globalization and Environmental Culture in China and Taiwan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Also seeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Hans Ulrich Vogel and Gunter Dux, eds., Concept of Nature: A Chinese-European Cross-Cultural Perspective (London and Boston: Brill, 2010).Google Scholar
  63. 44.
    Libby Robin, Sverker Sörlin, and Paul Warde, eds., The Future of Nature: Documents of Global Change (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), 157–259.Google Scholar
  64. 45.
    Benjamin A. Elman, A Cultural History of Modern Science in China (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 198–9.Google Scholar
  65. 46.
    Judith Shapiro, Mao’s War Against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. 47.
    For details, see Ts’ui-jung Liu 劉翠溶, ‘On Concepts and Institutions Related to the Environment in Chinese History’ [中國歷史上關於山林川澤的觀念和制度], in Economic Growth, Income Distribution and Institutional Evolution [經濟成長、所得分配與制度演化], Monograph Series, no. 46, ed. Tien-Wang Tsaur 曹添旺, Ching-Chong Lai 賴景昌, and Cheng-Chen Yang 楊建成 (Taipei: Sun Yat-Sen Institute for Social Sciences and Philosophy, Academia Sinica, 1999), 1–42.Google Scholar
  67. 48.
    Paul Sutter, ‘The World With Us: The State of American Environmental History’, Journal of American History 100(2013): 97;Google Scholar
  68. James Beattie, Emily O’Gorman, and Edward Melillo, ‘Rethinking the British Empire through Eco-Cultural Networks: Materialist–Cultural Environmental History, Relational Connections and Agency’, Environment and History 20, no. 4 (2014): 561–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. 52.
    Han Zhaoqing 韓昭慶, ‘Historical geography and environmental history research’ (歷史地理學與環境史研究), Jianghan Tribune 5 (2014): 46–50. On Chinese historiographical traditions, note, for example:Google Scholar
  70. Georg G. Iggers and Q. Edward Wang with Supriya Mukherjee, A Global History of Modern Historiography (Harlow, England; New York: Pearson Longman, 2008). On ‘historical geography’, Yange dili, and its more recent manifestation, lishi dili (which connotes the modern study of the discipline), see:Google Scholar
  71. Tao-Chang, Chiang, ‘Historical Geography in China’, Progress in Human Geography 29, no. 2 (2005): 148–64;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Weimin, Que, ‘Historical Geography in China’, Journal of Historical Geography 21, no. 4 (1995): 361–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. 53.
    Mei Xueqin 梅雪芹, A Prelude of Environmental History Research[環境史研究序論] (Beijing: China Environmental Science Press, 2011).Google Scholar
  74. 54.
    J. Donald Hughes 唐納德•休斯, ‘Environmental dimension of history’ [歷史的環境維度], Historical Research 3 (2013): 12–19.Google Scholar
  75. 55.
    For overviews, see: Bayly, Birth of the Modern World; Wong, China Transformed; Totman, Japan: An Environmental History, 189 ff.; John R. McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000); Marks, The Origins of the Modern World;Google Scholar
  76. Julia Adeney Thomas, Reconfiguring Modernity: Concepts of Nature in Japanese Political Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001). Our thanks to Rohan D’Souza for alerting us to this last work.Google Scholar
  77. 56.
    For an introduction to the Anthropocene, see: Libby Robin, ‘Histories for Changing Times: Entering the Anthropocene?’ Australian Historical Studies 44, no. 3 (2007): 329–40;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen and John R. McNeill, ‘The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature?’, AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment 36, no. 8 (2007): 614–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. 57.
    Mark J. Hudson, ‘Placing Asia in the Anthropocene: Histories, Vulnerabilities, Responses’, Journal of Asian Studies 73: 4 (2014): 941–62; quotation: 943.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. 59.
    Sheila Jasanoff, ‘The Idiom of Co-Production’, in States of Knowledge: The Co-Production of Science and Social Order, ed. Jasanoff (London: Routledge, 2004), 1. See also, for example,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. James Beattie, Edward Melillo, and Emily O’Gorman, eds., Eco-Cultural Networks and the British Empire: New Perspectives from Environmental History (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015).Google Scholar
  82. 60.
    East Asian exceptions include: Philippe Forêt, Mapping Chengde: The Qing Landscape Enterprise (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2000); Joseph Lawson, ‘The Chinese State and Agriculture in an Age of Global Empires, 1880–1949’, in Eco-Cultural Networks, ed. Beattie et al., 44–67;Google Scholar
  83. Peter Lavelle, ‘Cultivating Empire: Zuo Zongtang’s Agriculture, Environment, and Reconstruction in the Late Qing’, in China on the Margins, ed. Sherman Cochran and Paul Pickowicz (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University East Asia Program, 2010), 43–64.Google Scholar
  84. 61.
    Richard Tucker and Edmund Russell, eds., Natural Enemy, Natural Ally: Toward an Environmental History of War (Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 2004);Google Scholar
  85. John R. McNeill, ‘Woods and Warfare in World History’, Environmental History 9, no. 3 (July 2004): 388–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. 62.
    Exceptions are: Micah S. Muscolino, ‘Violence Against People and the Land: The Environment and Refugee Migration from China’s Henan Province, 1938–1945’, Environment and History 17, no. 2 (2011): 291–311;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Yan Gao, ‘The Retreat of the Horses: the Manchus, Land Reclamation, and Local Ecology in the Jianghan Plain (ca. 1700s–1850s)’, in Environmental History in East Asia: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Ts’ui-jung Liu (London: Routledge, 2014), 100–25;Google Scholar
  88. William M. Tsutsui, ‘Landscapes in the Dark Valley: Toward an Environmental History of Wartime Japan’, Environmental History 8, no. 2 (2003): 294–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. 65.
    W. G. Beasley, Japanese Imperialism, 1894–1945 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987). See, also, Miller et al., Japan at Nature’s Edge.Google Scholar
  90. 66.
    Note, for example: Patricia Ebrey, Anne Walthall, and James B. Palais, East Asia: A Cultural, Social and Political History, 2nd ed. ([Boston, MA]: Wadsworth, 2009).Google Scholar
  91. 67.
    For useful overview, see: Marks, Origins of the Modern World; Philip Richardson, Economic Change in China, c. 1800–1950 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Pomeranz, The Great Diversion; Wong, China Transformed.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. 69.
    Morris Low, Science and the Building of a New Japan (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Miller et al., Japan at Nature’s Edge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. 70.
    On the West, see: James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1998). On Japan, see: Thomas, Reconfiguring Modernity.Google Scholar
  94. 71.
    Note, for example: Richard Drayton, Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain, and the ‘Improvement’ of the World (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ts’ui-jung Liu and James Beattie 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Beattie
  • Ts’ui-jung Liu

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations