There are hundreds of books about China in my office at the university. Some are fiction, most are nonfiction. With such a large selection, it has been difficult to choose what to read. In the beginning I stuck with travel memoirs, my genre of choice when traveling. However, the longer I stayed in China, the more I became interested in specific aspects of the culture and history – mostly having to do with the environment and the treatment of women. I have been wanting to write some reviews about these books for awhile in case any of you are interested in learning more about China, its issues, and its people.

ImageFirst up is When a Billion Chinese Jump by Jonathan Watts. This book is  dense and will take awhile to get through, but it is also fascinating. Watts had been working as an environmental reporter in Beijing for several years when he decided to explore different parts of China to see what was really going on in terms of environmental degradation. What he found is shocking – at least for those who have never been to China.

Watts not only talks about the toll on the land, water, and animals, but he also talks about the human toll. He talks about the get-rich-quick schemes that exist throughout China that allow a handful of people to become rich, while thousands of others end up in cancer villages or, even more shameful because it is so preventable, AIDS villages. He also describes the cash grabs and the obsession with status symbols that are far too common in China today. You will also read about what happens to our plastic bottles and our leftover electronics, not to mention where they come from. After having lived in China for a short time, I was not surprised to read about the corruption and the laissez-faire attitude of the Chinese government. The obsession with GDP and the lack of regard for their citizens is appalling at best. The thing to remember though, and Watts makes this clear throughout the book, is that what is happening in China today does not only effect China. It effects the entire world. If you are concerned about the environment and the future of our planet, I would highly recommend this book.

Note: I have read several reviews about this book on Amazon and many people have written that the author has too much of a doomsday approach and exaggerates the severity of the issue. I have lived in China for only 1.5 years, but I have traveled through much of the country and have seen first-hand just how bad the pollution and environmental problems are in some areas. Watts is very even-handed in his approach to writing about the issues facing China today, and I especially appreciate that he does not let the West off scot-free. He makes sure to point out how the West has a huge hand in what is happening in China (and other developing countries) today because we have cleaned up our own countries only by exporting our pollution to where our citizens will not see it.

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