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When A Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind -- Or Destroy It Paperback – October 26, 2010

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When A Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind -- Or Destroy It + China's Environmental Challenges + The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future (Council on Foreign Relations Books (Cornell University))
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Asian environmental correspondent for the Guardian, Watts travels to the four corners of China, from the southwest Himalayan region, rebranded as "Shangri-la" to attract tourists, to Xanadu (Shangdu) in Inner Mongolia, exploring how Beijing is balancing economic growth with sustainability and whether China will "emerge as the world's first green superpower" or tip our species "over the environmental precipice." What he finds is both hopeful and disturbing. Wildlife refuges, rather than focusing on biodiversity, breed animals for meat and traditional remedies like black bear bile. The city of Ordos plans to build a huge wind farm and solar plant, but these benefits are offset by its coal-liquification mine, "an environmentalist's worst nightmare" of greenhouse gases and water exploitation. The Chinese dictatorship, envied by other nations for its ability to enact environmental changes without the slow democratic process, turns out to be ineffective, with power lying with developers and local bureaucracies. Readers interested in global warming will appreciate the firsthand information about China, and Watts's travels are so extensive and China is changing so fast, some material is likely to be fresh and new even for Sinologists.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Watts, an environmental correspondent for the Guardian, moved to Beijing in 2003 and found himself in the midst of an environmental crisis. Traveling through the vast land, Watts witnessed the toll that dams and railways take on the mountains of Tibet, and took part in an expedition to locate the last of a dwindling dolphin species known as the baiji, which was declared extinct after the search failed to turn up even a single one. He saw where Western waste—everything from computer hard drives to hotel welcome mats—piled up to be recycled in Guangdong and witnessed the suffering of people afflicted with cancer and AIDS in overcrowded Henan province. This stands in stark contrast to the luxuries of modernized cities, such as Shanghai, or even industrial villages like Huaxi, where citizens enjoy higher standards of living, in exchange for handing their paper wealth over to the authorities. Watts also meets forward-looking thinkers, such as Li Can, a professor working on solar power. Watts’ comprehensive, revealing study is eye-opening, not only for the way it illuminates how China’s population growth and rapid modernization affect the environment, but also for its exposure of the way Western waste contributes to the problem. --Kristine Huntley

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141658076X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416580768
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #745,986 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Watts is Asia Environment Correspondent for The Guardian and a former president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China.

He is author of the eco-travelogue "When a Billion Chinese Jump", which traces the course of China's development from mountain jungles and melting glaciers, through coal mines and cancer villages, to wind farms and eco-cities.
Watts' multimedia career includes seven years in Japan, five trips to North Korea, the 2004 tsunami, the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and Beijing Olympics. He has worked for BBC, CNN, Mother Jones and Asahi Shimbun. In his current post, he has covered the Copenhagen climate conference, renewable energy developments and more rubbish dumps than he cares to remember.

For more information about his book and related multimedia:

To comment or to see slideshow:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Christian Kober on October 29, 2010
Format: Paperback
I bought this book because, having lived in China for so long, I am always happy to gain new and different perspectives on China. Therefore I bought this book in a local bookshop, yearning to gain some insights into the Chinese environmental malaise. Ever since I have come to China in the 90s I have read about the looming environmental desaster in China.
China is fashionable. They all write about it, China will be dominant, will threaten all our jobs, will collaps.... Never is there a book that simply says 'China will continue to muddle through'.
This book mostly falls into the dystopian category. China is the refuge of last resort for all poisonous garbage of the world. China will consume enough coal to singlehandedly convert the world into a greenhouse. Etc. etc. The author tries valiantly to be evenhanded. He acknowledges that the rest of the world have outsourced their environmental problems to China. Many dirty industries in richer countries have not been cleaned up, they have been closed down. Thus the West has become greener and now scolds China for being dirty. The author also acknowledges the gargantuan efforts China has undertaken to clean up its environment.
Thus he is surprisingly fair and evenhanded. Yet in the end basically his vision is a dark one. China will not be able to handle its environmental problems and thus will become a major desaster zone. Like so often, he simply extrapolates the present into the future, not taking into account that humans react to changing circumstances and have been surprisingly adept at dealing with changing circumstances.
Nevertheless the book provides a compelling picture of a China in flux, a nation which tries to find its path. And, as mentioned before, he also makes it very clear that China is not the only culprit for the environmental impact it has.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Christopher R. Bennett on February 13, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As he journeys the length and breadth of China he observes the impact of China's--and the world's--development on the land, flora and fauna. It is a very sad and worrying tale, which fills in many of the pieces of the puzzle that I saw while working there.

I didn't appreciate that while we were busy planting trees on our road projects, that they came from but two types of poplars and the lack of biodiversity is having a major negative impact on the bird life. While I saw the grim conditions of many workers, I didn't know that much of what we recycle in the west ends up in these dark, dank factories in China where it is processed with no regard to the workers or the environment. I knew that by building improved infrastructure we were permitting factories to relocate inland, but I didn't appreciate that this was also transferring the pollution problem inland. I always was worried about the quality of the vegetables and other products, now I see that there was good cause to be.

After cataloging the litany of problems faced by China, the author turns to the possibilities in terms of the adoption of green technologies, etc. Unfortunately, against the backdrop of the problems one has to wonder whether China has passed a point of no return with addressing its environmental issues. I do hope not, but the signs are not good.

This is a must read book for anyone involved with development in China, or who are interested in the environment and sustainability. Both fascinating and disturbing, the author deserves credit for the breadth and scope of his work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. D. Laird on April 18, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This detailed analysis of China's progress is an eye opener to not only changes taking place in China but to the influence that other counties have on China. China's interest in Canadian tar sands, Brazilian rain forest, Russian forests, and African industry (of which I was already aware)is of concern as are the changes taking place in Tibet and in the Inner Mongolian grasslands. Western civilisation is quick to critisise China's pollution levels and practices but is not prepared to take any blame or realise that their own contribution to world pollution has exceeded Chinas' to date. For all who are concerned about climate and political change, in our world, take the time to read this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sophie on February 10, 2012
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Maybe it was an expression just in my family to mean that something's absurdly unrelated--but as a kid, I used to hear "What's THAT got to do with the tea in China?" And "A Billion Chinese" gives us the answer (so to speak). In fact, it even conveys that, specifically, "Guangdong is where China and your life intersect."

Extensively researched, heavily annotated, this book offers stunningly detailed notes on Chinese culture and history. You'll encounter here, by turn, the country's contemporary pop icons, novelists, national park directors, along with a little Confucius and sayings of Chairman Mao. Jonathan Watts' work traverses travelogue, historical account, anthropological study, environmental reporting, and socio-political commentary. (Until the 1990s, signs on cages in the Beijing Zoo described what parts of the animal could be eaten, or used in Chinese medicine. . . . Under contentious study is whether Sichuan's mega-dams contributed to its recent earthquake . . . Land development follows the "US model of suburban villas and car commutes," etc.) The wonder is that Watts accomplishes all this in about 300 pages (not counting another 100, or so, of fine-print notes and references).

This is a must-read for anyone making a study of China, or planning travel there.

But beyond that, what's it got to do with the rest of us? It's on that score that this book is particularly powerful and significant. He reports, yes, how the Developed World outsources the darker consequences of its consumption--beginning a chapter with the image of a plastic bag (recycled!) from a Western grocery chain, billowing atop a Chinese schoolyard tree. But more: Watts describes the impacts of a China that is simply in the vanguard of any society now pursuing economic development and wealth, while being largely heedless of the welfare of its environment and people. And that might include more of us than just the Chinese . . . .
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