Pdf Download [The Retreat of the Elephants An Environmental History of China] É Mark Elvin
The Long Road Home uSis than I was expecting and a lot of theseful nuggets are buried in page after page of poems and not always well contextualized mystical texts that make getting through this book an nnecessarily 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 report of a ing Dynasty writer that peacocks poison the environment by becoming so abundant in passes along the report of a ing Dynasty writer that peacocks poison the environment by becoming so abundant in forest that they fouled miles of rivers 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 red tide event and in grappling for an explanation linked them to his nrelated observation that these conspicuous birds were common in the area Again there is also some really 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 retreat 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 really seful synthesis of technological lock in of large scale water management systems However I think most of the really seful synthesis presents probably could have been covered in a much shorter book or a couple monographs This is
doubt an important work the specific field of Chinese environmental history but it really is geared towards a technical specialist doing research work in this area rather than ecologists natural historians or general readers Elephants and rhinoceroses once roamed the plains of what is now Beijing The Yellow River was not always yellow And the modern Chinese landscape was not always the barren treeless expanse that much of it is today Accounting for how these things came to be is the aim of Elvin s pioneering synthesis It is a story that builds in the costs o I finished reading this just as Darren Aronofsky s Noah opened in theaters ite appropriate given the book s focus on 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 environmental difficulties by means of a transformation of consciousnessUsing the vast expanse of Chinese history as a source of examples he finds that the pursuit of profit and military advantage tends to trump any enlightened view about the environment a culture might have A heightened appreciation of Nature may come about as a reaction to its very destruction but not prevent such destruction in the long runThe book contains a surprising insight about technological and economic development even if they allow greater control over nature and huge increases in population they may in fact worsen the average ality of life in some cases I was reminded of Derek Parfit s thorny dilemma of population ethics the repugnant conclusion How can we adjudicate ethically between a small population and a much larger population with worse ality of life Jared Diamond argues in his essay The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race that agriculturalists lived shorter lives and were less healthy than hunter gatherers Elvin sees to agree He recounts that ancient rulers often had to force their subjects to take on agriculture And see this ote from the book Are Diamond and Elvin perhaps over romanticizing pre agricultural timesThere s a lot to this book for example how Elvin corrects Max Weber s misconceptions about Chinese culture It can get a bit heavy going at times but I recommend it A great if dry in points environmental approach to the broad sweep of Chinese history countering the common assumption that traditional Chinese philosophy Daoism etc leads to a way of life somehow in harmony with nature than the dominant philosophies and religions of the West Picked p 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 years ago and now I finally have the chance to read 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 probab. 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 re engineering of the countryside through water control systems some of gigantic size He documents the histories of three contrasting loca. ,No Doubt An Important Work
Ly haven t heard of most of them Maybe not any of themAnd 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 his analyses on classical poetry and he admits that this 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 Elephants in China Yes and Forests TooEvery once in a while you come across a book so original and thought provoking that you make you gasp in admiration The Retreat of the Elephants An Environmental History of China by Mark Elvin is such a book It turned p when I was doing a search about the difficult relation between humans and forests over history as part of the research for my next non fiction project Road through Time A little time trolling library catalogues and data bases and I came p with a fascinating reading list that I m currently working my through Another good one is Deforesting the Earth From Prehistory to Global Crisis An Abridgement by Michael Williams whose title has got to be an inside joke since it has 561 pagesElvin is from New Zealand and perhaps that South Pacific vantage point has allowed him to write a history of the rise of intensive agriculture in China and the accompanying destruction of forests water courses and grasslands He takes as his starting image the herds of elephants which five thousand years ago roamed woods around Beijing apparently there are many caches of the beasts bones in that part of China The huge herbivores were hunted by the elite but that was
not what did them in rather they werewhat did them in Rather they were type of pachyderms which could not survive outside forests and as the Chinese vigorously deforested the land they retreated ntil now there are only a few left on the border with MyanmarWhat happened next Elvin recounts with the same striking storyteller s skills What is he The Highlander and the Wolf Princess (Legend of the Faol, uotes extensively from Chinese poetry to bring the rest of his history to life While it appears that he greatly regrets what the Chinese have done to their land over the last five thousand years he also shows much sympathy for the reasons that lie behind their desire to make every inch productiveI m no Asian scholar so I can not critiue either his sources or his analysis but the 50 pages or so of notes and bibliography at the end of the book attest to Elvin s seriousness and his academic credentialsIf you are interested in China the environment or Chinese literature this book is a must read Enormous disjointed and a dense read The Retreat of the Elephants is nonetheless an extraordinary work of scholarship even if its final form is not easily digested Mark Elvin looks at four thousand years of Chinese history to show the gap between the Chinese people s love of nature and the simultaneous destruction of the environment for the sake of commerce and political power By the 1800s China hadndertaken environmentally intensive projects than the West China s environmental degradation was also becoming severe by the present day that degradation has become catastrophic and Whiteout (Threes Allowed, unsustainable The book wanders over much ground covering religion poetry hydraulics and watershed management imperial politics superstition legends comparative studies of different provinces warfare these of nature in war longevity and food In many ways this book reads like the summary of a pathbreaking conference it lays out the parameters of a field and gives other historians topics to write about However I do disagree with Elvin s contention that environmental history only applies to the period for which we have written sources about the environment I and The Princes Ultimate Deception (Monte Carlo Affairs, uite a few biologists geologists would contend that we canse natural evidence to tell Breaking the Governesss Rules us about the Earth s history and mankind s relationship with nature before writing was invented Isabel Hilton editor of the website China Dialogue has chosen to discuss T he Retreat of the Elephants by Mark Elvin on FiveBooks as one of the top five on her subject China s Environmental Crisis saying that The most comprehensive and scholarly history of the Han people s relationship to their environmentThe environmental history of China is a very interesting one and there is this mythology that Chinese peasants are somehow in tune with nature But if you read Elvin you realise that in China there has actually been 2000 years ofnsustainable development and environmental degradation The full interview is available here. 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 roots of China’s present day environmental crisis this book opens a door into the Chinese past.