kindle ebook The Retreat of the Elephants An Environmental History of China – pullanmaths.co.uk
Download É eBook, ePUB or Kindle PDF ¾ Mark ElvinPicked up in a bookshop near the campus of the University of Chicago on a blustery fall day wanted to buy couldn t afford to buy That was nearly 15 fall day wanted to buy couldn t afford to buy That was nearly 15 ago and now I finally have the chance to ead itThe first time you see China you look down at the landscape and come to the conclusion that this is a place eaten at by time at least I did If you look at the Wikipedia page showing the worst disasters of all time sorted by type you ll notice half of them occurred in China and you probably haven t heard of of them occurred in China and you probably haven t heard of Of Them Maybe Not Any Of of them Maybe not any of Retreat of the Elephants is a hell of a guide to the cavalcade of cruelties that forms Chinese history the struggles against the environment and the many instances in which the environment pushed back Elvin largely based his analyses on classical poetry and he admits that this isn t an ideal tactic but it s probably the best available to modern scholars So take that grain of salt fellow empiricists but it s enjoyable all the same To build a portrait of environmental history on a canvas spanning 4000 years in a large country with an extraordinary geographic and demographic profile like China is no easy task Somehow Mark Elvin in this book manages to pull it off with engaging stories and compelling analysis of the historical ecord There have been many eviews of this book already by historians and they have made a better assessment than I can in all honesty make here But let me share straight off as an ecologist who is no historian some of the things I liked about this book and some of what I learnt The first aspect that I liked which finds little mention in other eviews is the author s extensive use of Chinese literature especially period poetry presented in translation often at length to build his narrative and arguments Some of the poetry is telling in detail Poets who ecount the plight of farmers in an era of agricultural and demographic expansion the harsh conditions of coal miners the scarcity of fuelwood and food They write of floods and famine of forests and ain of nature as esource and as a force Not only do these evoke descriptions of the period they also bring insights into people s perceptions of the environment This is particularly used by the author in the latter parts of the bookA second aspect which was interesting is the comparison of the history of landscapes and peoples in three different egions in China The author makes a convincing case for the strong influences that landscapes cast on history and A landmark account of China’s environmental history by an internationally pre eminent China specialist This is the first environmental history of China during the three thousand years for which there are written ecords It is also a treasure trove of literary political aesthetic scientific and eligious sources which allow the eader direct access to the views and feelings of the Chinese people toward their environment and their lan. Onversely on how the historical changes in people land use and esource Exploitation Cast Their Sometimes cast their sometimes mark on the landscapesFinally it is good to see the comprehensive sweep of the analysis of Chinese environmental history especially in the opening chapters The etreat of the elephants mentioned in the title is used as a defining marker of the decline in forests and wildlife with the expansion of farming and pre industrial development in China Deforestation is linked to erosion and ising iver basins and conseuently to catastrophic floods In addition the esponse in terms of hydraulic measures of dykes and dams and canals is clearly pinned down for the additional implications that these engineering measures have costly and constant epair and maintenance The importance of environmental buffers uns as a thread through the historical narrativeThe flip side of the book is its length the varying structure of narrative and the lack of illustrative maps additionally problematic while eading on the Kindle edition It would have also helped if the author had presented a summary of key conclusions and concepts at the end of each section of the book The concluding emarks does a good job of setting out an analytical context and mentioning some broad conclusions while highlighting the further work comparisons and empirical esearch that is euired in future I finished eading this just as Darren Aronofsky s Noah opened in theaters uite appropriate given the book s focus as Darren Aronofsky s Noah opened in theaters uite appropriate given the book s focus hydrological disastersIf you don t mind a spoiler can there be spoilers for history books Mark Elvin arrives at a somewhat pessimistic conclusion casting doubt on the hope that we can escape from our present envi Enormous disjointed and a dense ead The Retreat of the Elephants is nonetheless an extraordinary work of scholarsh Retreat of the Elephants was kind of an odd book Mark Elvin provides a massive eview of thousands of years of Chinese environmental history
*and was apparently *was apparently first westerner to attempt this task Most of the general takeaways of the book are covered in the first several chapters which are about a third of the overall length The est of the book chiefly deals with seemingly cherry picked in depth examples that are supposed to exemplify some aspect of Chinese attitudes towards and interactions with their natural environment at various points in the country s long history These middle and later chapters deal with things such as the history of three specific loca. Dscape Elvin chronicles the spread of the Chinese style of farming that eliminated the habitat of the elephants that populated the country alongside much of its original wildlife; the destruction of most of the forests; the impact of war on the environmental transformation of the landscape; and the e engineering of the countryside through water control systems some of gigantic size He documents the histories of three contrasting loca. .
Lities a massive water management project and explications of works by certain poets and philosophers Elvin translated a huge amount of archaic and historical writings into English and he ightfully considers
*providing this primary *this primary material to an English speaking audience English and he ightfully considers providing this primary source material to an English speaking audience be one of the most significant contributions of this project Unfortunately he also chose to include vast passages of these documents in his main text ather than appendices or end notes and these translations account for a large portion of the length of this 500 page book even though most of them only contain a line or two that directly support the point he is using them to illustrate There is a lot of interesting information in here for sure but also much less synthesis than I was expecting and a lot of the useful nuggets are buried in page after page of poems and not always well contextualized mystical texts that make getting through this book an unnecessarily tedious chore Elvin also seemed to at times be a bit too credulous of some of the things in these writings for his own good Probably the most egregious comes in Chapter 3 when he uncritically passes along the eport of a ing Dynasty writer that peacocks poison the environment by becoming so abundant in undisturbed forest that they fouled miles of ivers with their droppings and that somehow this is an example of extensive forest cover being bad for the environment Needless to say I think most modern ecologists would be as skeptical of this anecdote as I am personally I suspect the writer had observed something like a ed tide event and in grappling for an explanation linked them to his unrelated observation that these conspicuous birds were common in the area Again there is also some eally interesting stuff in the book especially the early chapters descriptions of the alteration of historical ecological communities by the ancient expansion of intensive agriculture out of the ethnic Han heartland including the titular etreat of the elephants and the later discussion of the long term costs of technological lock in of large scale water management systems However I think most of the eally useful synthesis he presents probably could have been covered in a much shorter book or a couple monographs This is no doubt an important work in the specific field of Chinese environmental history but it eally is geared towards a technical specialist doing esearch work in this area ather than ecologists natural historians or general eaders. Lities within China to show how ecological dynamics defined the lives of the inhabitants And he shows that China in the eighteenth century on the eve of the modern era was probably environmentally degraded than northwestern Europe around this time Indispensable for its new perspective on long term Chinese history and its explanation of the oots of China’s present day environmental crisis this book opens a door into the Chinese past. ,