Friday, March 1, 2013

When a Billion Chinese Jump by Jonathan Watts (2010)

When a Billion Chinese Jump
How China will save mankind – or destroy it

I find this a very interesting read. The title was inspired by the author’s childhood curiosity: What if all the Chinese in the world jump at the same time? Wouldn’t the world be shaken off its axis?
The road journey took the author from the “Shangri-La” region in the southwest of China to city that is synonymous with the “Made in China” label, i.e., Guangdong, and then to the heartland of Chinese civilisation. From there he headed to the “new territory” of Xinjiang before he rounded off with his experiences in the industrial belt of the northeast.

To a western mind, China is a world of contradictions. He talks about its pollution, its concept of conservation, even about the Lewis turning point (demand for labour outstrips supply) regarding the lure of its cities, much of which is ironical to him. A case in point is on wildlife protection. Li Shizhen (1518-93) who was for generations, and still is, the authority of Chinese traditional medicine - the Bancao Gangmu – is said to have listed more than 1,800 treatments, many of which require the essence of animals (stewed turtle cures cancer, crocodile meat relieves asthma, pangolin scales regulate menstruation, and scorpion venom helps stroke victims). Li’s prescription is the death warrant of many of the species he named, well intentioned he might be. To many Chinese, conservation is for a medical cause. There is apparently a Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Mountain Village in Guizhou sustained for this very cause. However, the author is not another John Garnaut. (Garnaut is the journalist for The Age in Beijing. To him, everything and anything about China or Chinese is bad news). He also gives credit to many things Chinese, example, its push for Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology that turns coat into gas, removes impurities, maximizes efficiency, and can capture carbon.

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