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The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future (A Council on Foreign Relations Book) [Paperback]

Elizabeth C. Economy
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)


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The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future (Council on Foreign Relations Books (Cornell University)) The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future (Council on Foreign Relations Books (Cornell University)) 4.5 out of 5 stars (16)
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Book Description

February 24, 2005 0801489784 978-0801489785 1

China's spectacular economic growth over the past two decades has dramatically depleted the country’s natural resources and produced skyrocketing rates of pollution. Environmental degradation in China has also contributed to significant public health problems, mass migration, economic loss, and social unrest. In The River Runs Black, Elizabeth C. Economy examines China’s growing environmental crisis and its implications for the country’s future development.

Drawing on historical research, case studies, and interviews with officials, scholars, and activists in China, Economy traces the economic and political roots of China’s environmental challenge and the evolution of the leadership's response. She argues that China’s current approach to environmental protection mirrors the one embraced for economic development: devolving authority to local officials, opening the door to private actors, and inviting participation from the international community, while retaining only weak central control. The result has been a patchwork of environmental protection in which a few wealthy regions with strong leaders and international ties improve their local environments, while most of the country continues to deteriorate, sometimes suffering irrevocable damage. Economy compares China’s response with the experience of other societies and sketches out several possible futures for the country.


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The statistics and the anecdotes recounted in The River Runs Black are worse than ominous: China has six of the ten most polluted cities in the world; just by breathing, some children are smoking the equivalent of two packets of cigarettes a day; acid rain affects a third of the territory; more than three-quarters of the river water flowing through urban areas is unsuitable for drinking or fishing; each year, 300,000 people die prematurely as a result of air pollution; in one part of Guangdong Province, where circuit boards had been processed and burned, level of lead in the water were 2,400 times the guideline level set by the World Health Organisation."—Financial Times, 26 June 2004 (reviewing the first edition)



"As described by Elizabeth Economy, the scale of China's environmental degradation is shocking. Her book is particularly strong in its examination of the peculiarly Chinese reasons—beyond the country's rapid development and huge population pressure—that lie behind this: the leadership's obsession with short-term growth to preserve social stability, whatever the ultimate cost, is one; the weak rule of law and a tradition of devolving power to the regions, where watchdogs and polluters are often in collusion, is another."—The Economist, 10 July 2004 (reviewing the first edition)



"In Taiyun, a coal-producing region, water scarcity meant the city had the stark choice of moving 3 million people, shutting down heavy industry, or diverting a major river. It chose the last option. Water shortages also mean crop losses. In Qianghai, some 2,000 lakes and rivers have dried up, with serious implications for the flow of the crucial Yellow River. Already a quarter of China, about the size of the United States, is desert. Air pollution is also serious, creating health problems that mean days lost on the job. Beijing roads carry 2 million cars now, with 3 million predicted for next year. Traffic cops, breathing foul air, live 40 years on average. That's some of the environmental damage toted up by Elizabeth Economy, author of The River Runs Black."—Christian Science Monitor, 29 April 2004 (reviewing the first edition)



"Economy examines the historical, political, cultural, and bureaucratic issues that will affect China's ability to meet the needs of its people and its environment. . . . She concludes that China's environment has paid 'a terrible price' as the country has turned from a nation in poverty to an economic power. It is possible, but by no means certain, she says, that it will be able to repair the damage or even to slow the degradation."—Chronicle Review, 18 June 2004 (reviewing the first edition)



"According to The River Runs Black, an outstanding new book by Elizabeth Economy, . . . five of China's biggest rivers are 'not suitable for human contact.' . . . According to Economy, Li Xioping, executive producers of 'Focus,' a Chinese investigative news program, says peasants now come to the 'Focus' studios to beg them to investigate environmental problems caused by local officials."—Joshua Kurlantzick, The New Republic, 30 August 2004 (reviewing the first edition)



"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 (reviewing the first edition)



"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 (reviewing the first edition)



"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 (reviewing the first edition)



"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 United States 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 (reviewing the first edition)

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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


Product Details

  • Series: A Council on Foreign Relations Book
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (February 24, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801489784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801489785
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.9 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,454,725 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
4.0 out of 5 stars China's burgeoning environmental crisis 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
5.0 out of 5 stars All Hail "The River Runs Black"! June 30, 2004
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Perspective for Everyone! July 8, 2004
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Good policy study 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Depressingly good
This was a great book with incredible statistics about how China is destroying not only their own environment, but that of the world. We all need to take notice.
Published 4 months ago by kira
5.0 out of 5 stars Pollution and Public Health Woes in China a Mirror Image of USA
This book documents pollution issues in China that are identical to those in the USA. Their political obstacles to dealing with the public health problems caused by water and... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Ned Rosen
5.0 out of 5 stars Best overview of Chinese environmental challenges
This is the most systematic and complete overview of Chinese environmental problems, status, challenges and policies in the recent batch of books published in English on the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by I. Cuperstein
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Book
It was a really good, interesting read. Had to read it for class and it wasn't so bad, so I recommend it.
Published 14 months ago by Dylan
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read!
Although many may find the reading difficult, one should be able to read this book easily if they want to be knowledgeable in such a deep topic. Read more
Published 18 months ago by ...
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Analysis
It is not the usual "we have to do something about the environment." This book does a good job of breaking down the environmental issues while not ignoring the economic ones. Read more
Published on October 13, 2011 by Intrigued
4.0 out of 5 stars Well researched. Shocking.
China has itelf in a predicament. While the economy is going gang busters, the longtime culture of not caring for the environment or the health of its own citiens has caught up... Read more
Published on September 28, 2011 by Glenn D. Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Will environmental destruction pose limits to China's development?
This is a well researched, excellent book. Elizabeth Economy has followed environmental politics in China for a long time -- and is able to do so in Chinese -- so she knows her... Read more
Published on July 26, 2011 by J. I. Uitto
1.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read
Intriguing topic, but pretty boring read. Bland listing of environmental problems in China, but little in-depth discussion. The logical separation among chapters is not clear. Read more
Published on December 14, 2009 by Ling Yan
5.0 out of 5 stars read it if you dare
incredibly depressing and negative, leaves one with a sick feeling in the stomach. but its happening in China every day. Read more
Published on March 14, 2008 by SDB
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