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The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future

16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801442209
ISBN-10: 0801442206
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"Elizabeth C. Economy’s book hits my ‘Top Ten’ list from the day it is published. It is a clear and compelling reminder that no engagement with China--commercial, diplomatic, cultural, intellectual--can afford to ignore China’s vast environmental dilemmas and the deep social, economic, and political structural problems that make environmental salvation an uncertain enterprise at best. The case for international engagement with China emerges even more strongly from this book; the case for ‘irrational exuberance’ is dashed to smithereens."--Robert A. Kapp, President, US-China Business Council

"Rivers run black, deserts advance from the north, and smoky haze covers the country. Elizabeth C. Economy both provides a gripping account of a severely degraded environment and thoughtfully analyzes what could be China's most important challenge in the twenty-first century."—Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China

"Elizabeth C. Economy captures extraordinarily well the complex historical, systemic, political, economic, and international forces that are shaping China’s environmental outcomes. No other volume on this enormously important issue is as comprehensive, balanced, and incisive. True to her deep understanding of the crosscurrents of China's present environmental efforts, Economy is agnostic about which of three startlingly different futures will come to pass. Her book enables us to understand both the potential for each of these futures and the means to lessen the chances of environmental meltdown on the Chinese mainland."—Kenneth Lieberthal, Professor of Political Science and Professor of International Business at the University of Michigan

"Elizabeth C. Economy has written a well-researched analysis of the environmental degradation that has occurred in China and its implications for the rest of the world. This book will provide critical guidance for the U.S. and other nations to pursue enlightened policies that will help the Chinese address our mutual environmental problems."—Theodore Roosevelt IV, environmentalist and Chair of Strategies for the Global Environment

About the Author

Elizabeth C. Economy is C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director, Asia Studies, at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is coeditor of China Joins the World: Progress and Prospects and The Internationalization of Environmental Protection. She has published articles and opinion pieces in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the International Herald Tribune, among others. She consults regularly for the U.S. government on issues related to China and the environment and is a frequent television and radio commentator on U.S.-China relations.

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Product Details

  • Series: A Council on Foreign Relations Book
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801442206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801442209
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,032,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elizabeth Economy is the C.V. Starr senior fellow and director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is an expert on Chinese foreign and domestic policy and China's environment, and her writings have appeared in publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Dr. Economy is vice chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on the Future of China and serves on the board of the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development. She received her BA from Swarthmore College, her AM from Stanford University, and her PhD from the University of Michigan.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Malvin VINE VOICE on October 21, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"The River Runs Black" by Elizabeth C. Economy is an intelligent analysis of contemporary China and its burgeoning environmental crisis. This engaging book helps us understand how globalization is reshaping China and issues an urgent plea for international cooperation to help monitor and rectify an increasingly worrysome situation.

Ms. Economy tells us how China's environment has been steadily deteriorating over the past centuries due to wars, political power struggles and overpopulation. However, today's problems

are attributable to specific policy decisions by China's government that has favored rapid economic development through engagement with the international business community. Unfortunately, the particular kinds of economic development favored by China's rulers has led to myriad environmental problems including deforestation, desertification, and air and water pollution. The collusion of local government and business interests has made it difficult to obtain reliable data or to implement solutions where it is feared that plant shutdowns might

result in mass unemployment and social unrest, making difficult problems seem untractable.

Environmental consciousness in China has increased as the problems have become more visible and as the country has engaged with the world economy. Ms. Economy profiles some of the courageous and inspirational individuals who have struggled for conservation, urban renewal and grass-roots democracy such as Tang Xiyang, He Bochuan, Dai Qing and others.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Elizabeth Economy's "The River Runs Black" is a fascinating account of the environmental crisis facing China. It recounts how the world's most highly populated country with the fastest growing economy has resulted in an environmental tinderbox. The book is neither an hysterical call to arms for environmental activists nor a dry, scientific analysis of global climate change. Instead, it offers a well-researched, thorough and pragmatic look at the problem and the policy alternatives for addressing the issue. The book is very readable and is a "first of its kind" book in that no one has really focused on this issue with the intellectual integrity that Economy has. No doubt you'll see others jumping on the bandwagon to highlight the situation in China, but they'll be hard pressed to improve on the author's work, given that she has essentially pioneered the analysis in this area over the past 10 years. I highly recommend this book for anyone.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
For anyone with even a hint of environmental concern, this book provides a great look at what can and will go wrong. The problems in China outlined here teach us first hand that if economic and technologic advancement go unchecked, the cost will be the environment, and we will all pay. A copy of Dr. Economy's book should be sent to all current politicians and policy makers so that history is not repeated, in the US, or anywhere in the world, and that immediate steps be taken to reverse all environmental insults that are taking place. I really enjoyed this excellent political and economic commentary in which myself, as a common reader, can appreciate the importance of environmental salvation. Let's learn from this author's teachings.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on February 16, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Previous reviewers have said good things about this book, and I can only agree. It is notably superior to other recent books about the Chinese environment, which (though often scholarly) are long on polemics and short on comprehensive vision.

Dr. Economy focuses on politics and policies. These have been notoriously awful under Communism, but there is now a realization of the damage being done, and thus some hope. Dr. Economy is as optimistic as one could reasonably be. Incidentally, interested readers should also look up her very fine chapter in Kristen Day's worthy edited volume CHINA'S ENVIRONMENT AND THE CHALLENGE OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT.

I am not so optimistic. One reason is that my training is more in biology, and I am aware that the devastating damage China has done to its environment will not be clear for 50 to 100 years. It takes that long for pollution and environmental degradation to show themselves fully.

As Dr. Economy says, China wanted to be "first rich, then clean" (that's the literal Chinese; she actually phrases it more academically). They thought that the west had done this. No, the west started conservation and scientific management long ago. The United States' golden age of conservation was under Theodore Roosevelt, when the US was still poor and rural. The US and western Europe never allowed anything close to what China has done. There was much degradation, but reaction always came eventually. China, like all Communist-led countries, missed this lesson. Marx had spoken: production is all, and top-down control is the way to do it. This has led, everywhere, to dismal environmental records, though much good has come from distributing food, health care, housing, etc., more evenly (this may no longer be the case).
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