Timber and Forestry in Qing China
Sustaining the Market
- PUBLISHED: June 2021
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China, History, Environmental Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 280 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 4 b&w illus., 5 charts, 3 maps, 8 tables
- SERIES: Culture, Place, and Nature
- ISBN: 9780295748870
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
In the Qing period (1644–1912), China's population tripled, and the flurry of new development generated unprecedented demand for timber. Standard environmental histories have often depicted this as an era of reckless deforestation, akin to the resource misuse that devastated European forests at the same time. This comprehensive new study shows that the reality was more complex: as old-growth forests were cut down, new economic arrangements emerged to develop renewable timber resources.
Historian Meng Zhang traces the trade routes that connected population centers of the Lower Yangzi Delta to timber supplies on China's southwestern frontier. She documents innovative property rights systems and economic incentives that convinced landowners to invest years in growing trees. Delving into rare archives to reconstruct business histories, she considers both the formal legal mechanisms and the informal interactions that helped balance economic profit with environmental management. Of driving concern were questions of sustainability: How to maintain a reliable source of timber across decades and centuries? And how to sustain a business network across a thousand miles? This carefully constructed study makes a major contribution to Chinese economic and environmental history and to world-historical discourses on resource management, early modern commercialization, and sustainable development.
Authors & Contributors
Meng Zhang is assistant professor of history at Vanderbilt University.
[O]ne of the most interesting books for understanding the Chinese system of timber trade during the Qing era. Zhang's book can be useful to us today because we are living in a time of deforestation of the Amazon, climate change, and problems with the actual economic system. The explanation provided by Zhang might be part of the solution for shaping humanity's common future.- H-Net
Zhang's work is superlative... [T]his remarkable book belongs on the shelves and syllabi of any scholar interested in the economical and environmental history of early modern China.- Journal of Asian Studies
For the reader unfamiliar with the details of imperial Chinese political economy, this is a work that is attentive to what you need to know. For the specialist it is skilled in logical weaving together of the impact of a complex set of institutions and practices. This should encourage wide readerhip among comparative historians as well as China scholars.- Journal of Chinese History
This carefully constructed study makes a major contribution to Chinese economic and environmental history and to world-historical discourses on resource management, early modern commercialization, and sustainable development.- New Books Network
At a time when the market has been seen as a main culprit for resource degeneration, Zhang’s study offers an important opportunity for us to reconsider the market–resource relationship. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in Chinese history, economic and environmental history, Chinese geography, resource management, sustainable forestry, market–environment relationships, and related topics.- China Review International
Advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars of early capitalism, regional political economy, historical resource economics, and the convergence of ecology and economics (a new Oikonomics?) will gain much from a careful, critical, and comparative reading of this remarkable and challenging book.- Environmental History
Offering vivid insights into labourers, who played a crucial role in different stages of timber production, such as cutting, processing, and transportation, Zhang’s book fills a gap in current knowledge about the history of forest labourers.- International Review of Social History
Revises a major truism in Qing dynasty history, and reveals how China’s adaptation to the exhaustion of old-growth natural forest was in many ways more sophisticated than any early modern European contemporaries.- David A. Bello, author of Across Forest, Steppe, and Mountain: Environment, Identity, and Empire in Qing China's Borderlands
Combines rigorous empirical research with impeccable conceptual logic to construct an important argument for environmental, economic, and Late Imperial Chinese history.- Stevan Harrell, coeditor of Greening East Asia: The Rise of the Eco-developmental State