The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China

Front Cover
Yale University Press, Mar 10, 2004 - History - 604 pages
0 Reviews
Reviews aren't verified, but Google checks for and removes fake content when it's identified

The eminent China scholar delivers a landmark study of Chinese culture’s relationship to the natural environment across thousands of years of history.

Spanning the three millennia for which there are written records, The Retreat of the Elephants is the first comprehensive environmental history of China. It is also a treasure trove of literary, political, aesthetic, scientific, and religious sources, which allow the reader direct access to the views and feelings of Chinese people toward their environment and their landscape.

China scholar and historian Mark Elvin chronicles the spread of the Chinese style of farming that eliminated elephant habitats; the destruction of most of the forests; the impacts of war on the landscape; and the re-engineering of the countryside through gigantic water-control systems. He documents the histories of three contrasting localities within China to show how ecological dynamics defined the lives of the inhabitants. And he shows that China in the eighteenth century was probably more environmentally degraded than northwestern Europe around this time.

Indispensable for its new perspective on long-term Chinese history and its explanation of the roots of China’s present-day environmental crisis, this book opens a door into the Chinese past.


What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.


Concluding Remarks

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2004)

Mark Elvin is professor of Chinese history at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, Canberra. Author of The Pattern of the Chinese Past and other works, he has taught at Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, and Heidelberg, and been a visiting research fellow at Harvard.

Bibliographic information