David A. Pietz
The Problem of Water in Modern China
Harvard University Press 2015
New Books in East Asian StudiesNew Books in Environmental StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books Network April 6, 2015 Carla Nappi
David A. Pietz‘s new book argues that China’s water challenges are historically grounded, and that these historical realities are not going to disappear anytime soon. Using a careful history of water and environmental management to inform our understanding of water-related challenges in contemporary China, Yellow River: The Problem of Water in Modern China (Harvard University Press, 2015) asks, how did China reach its current state of water insecurity, and what might it mean for both China and the broader global community that it’s part of? After a helpful introduction to the ecology and natural history of the Plain – a region that has shaped China’s economy and been transformed by human action – Pietz charts a narrative with important anchoring points in the sixteenth century of Pan Jixun (1521-1595), who was later known as the “greatest water hero in Chinese history,” and in the nineteenth century, when a major famine and a course change of the Yellow River occasioned a change in statecraft as well. Yellow River pays special attention to the Maoist period (1949-1979), a time when the struggle to build communism transformed the landscape, and especially the development of water resources on the North China Plain. Though the Maoist technology complex had profound impacts on China’s waterscape that persist today, compounded by the effects of pollution and global warming, Pietz is careful to show that the challenges facing contemporary are not only based in Mao’s “war on nature,” but instead have historical roots that reach much further back in time. This is fascinating reading for anyone interested in modern China, the histories of ecology and environment, and contemporary policy.