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Cultural Geography



Historically the relationship between humankind and nature has differed between China and the West. Man has usually been center stage in the West with nature serving as a neutral backdrop or perhaps more frequently as a phenomenon to be controlled, tamed and dominated. In China, while government ecological management was common, the people learned to accept nature's awesome power and fate. As the saying went, "Heaven nourishes and destroys." Chinese landscape painting was far less anthropocentric than its Western counterpart as you can see below in these two landscape paintings.




View contemporary Chinese political and physical maps here.


And try your luck at this rather challenging China Map puzzle. (Note: you will need Flash player, which you can download if you don't have it.)


This link will allow you to see the various changes in China's size and shape over the course of its dynastic history from Neolithic times to the end of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty in 1911.


China's Environmental Challenges


China's astounding economic growth in the last generation---it now boasts the second largest economy in the world, having just surpassed Japan's economy, and second only to the United States---has resulted in an enormous ongoing commitment to infrastructure construction (dams, railroads, pipelines, highways, etc.) and manufacturing expansion (auto factories, steel plants, coal-burning and nuclear power plants, etc.). Indeed, one joke among Chinese today is that the national bird of China is the crane.*


Of course, such rapid economic development has put great strains on China's environment. Ohio University Professor Andrew McGreevy identifies a number of serious environmental challenges confronting the Chinese including deforestation, soil erosion, loss of already limited arable land---the Chinese have to feed close to 25% of the world's population on but 7% of the world's arable land---, and polluted soil, air (green house gases, carbon dioxide, etc.) and water. Polluted air already reaches the U.S. Presently about 500 million Chinese lack safe drinking water.*


The Chinese government since imperial times has always been involved in ecological management. In the last decade the Three Gorges Dam project has been a ecological management project of enormous scope. Today is no different. (Recently the government has finally acknowledged the great cost---human and environmental---that the $23 billion dam has wrought.) China's push for green technologies is alive and well (perhaps more alive than the American effort at the moment) with the government having committed vast sums of money in its recent economic stimulus plan.




 To get a sense for the immense nature of these environmental challenges within China and to see how China compares to the rest of the world, visit the New York Times' interactive map. As Dr. McGreevy notes in his article on China's environmental crisis, according to Yale University's Environmental Performance index, China ranks 121 out of 163 countries. (The U.S. is #61! ... Iceland tops the list.)


This YouTube clip from the Voice of America helps to illustrate some of the progress China is already making in renewable energies:




*Note: the discussion of China's environmental challenges draws from the article, "China's Environmental Challenges" by Andrew McGreevy. The article appeared in Education About Asia, Vol. 15, No. 3, Winter 2010, pp. 28-32. The periodical is published three times a year by the Association for Asian Studies. (http://www.aasianst.org/EAA/index.htm



China in Revolution: Mao to Xi

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