Professor’s newest book gains international attention

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Asia Times, Joseph Marlitt, News, Robert Marks - By Joseph Marlitt on Thursday, March 22, 2012 - 04:21

College professors often publish works related to their area of study, and recently on Whittier College professor’s research to attract the attention of the Asia Times.

Whittier College Richard and Billie Deihl Distinguished Professor of History Robert B. Marks published China: Its Environment and History, his fourth individually authored book. The book recently attracted attention from the Asia Times due to its outlook on Chinese history.

“I wouldn’t say that this is the culmination of my work, because that would entail that I was done with my research, but this is an exhaustive look at Chinese environmental history,” Marks said.

His previous books Rural Revolution in South China: Peasants and the Making of History in Haifeng County, 1500-1930 (1984); Tigers, Rice, Silk and Silt: Environment and Economy in Late Imperial South China (1998) and The Origins of the Modern World (2002; 2nd enlarged edition 2007; translated into five languages) all also include conversations about the relationships between China and environmental history.

“The Chinese have radically altered their environment over several thousand years,” Marks said in his Feb. 15 interview with Asia Times correspondent Victor Fic. “Agriculture especially has stripped the natural vegetation. Daoist ideals that there should be ‘harmony’ between people and nature arose during extraordinary environmental change around 300 B.C., when there was little ‘harmony.’”

Marks does not simply focus exclusively on the environment though. He delves deeper into the effects that both human and natural environmental changes, have effected what China is today. He includes such topics as disease, population increase and political changes and why the environment can be seen as a factor that led to these changes.

“I present evidence of ecological degradation such as deforestation, land and wind erosion and silted waterways nearly everywhere, possibly excepting Sichuan province,” Marks said. “It contributed to the rural poverty that was provided fertile ground for communist organizers.”

While, judging by the title, this sounds like a typical time-lined Chinese history, Marks has expressed that he feels the “book is trailblazing … Other scholars have done major environmental studies of imperial or modern China, but mine is the first to cover all of China’s 10,000-year-long environmental history from the emergence of farming to now.”