To fully comprehend China’s contemporary environmental challenges, one has to recognize that they result from a complex interplay between recent developments and patterns with deeper roots in China’s history. Coming to grips with ecological problems, as my research seeks to convey, depends on understanding how people have historically generated, perceived, and responded to environmental change in times past. These historical legacies will shape options available to China and the rest of the world as we grapple with mounting environmental crises on the global scale. Currently, I am conducting research for new projects on the emergence of the Pearl River Delta mega-city as an ecological phenomenon and the history of soil conservation in China.
My most recent book, The Ecology of War in China: Henan Province, the Yellow River, and Beyond, 1938-1950(Cambridge University Press, 2014), explores the interplay between war and the environment in a hotly contested frontline territory that endured massive environmental destruction and human disruption during the conflict between China and Japan that raged during World War II. In a desperate attempt to block Japan's military advance, Chinese Nationalist armies under Chiang Kai-shek broke the Yellow River's dikes in Henan in June 1938, resulting in devastating floods that persisted until after the war's end. Greater catastrophe struck Henan in 1942-1943, when famine took some two million lives and displaced millions more. Focusing on these war-induced disasters and their aftermath, this book conceptualizes the ecology of war in terms of energy flows through and between militaries, societies, and environments.
My first book, Fishing Wars and Environmental Change in Late Imperial and Modern China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2009), looked at interactions between society and environment in China's most important marine fishery, the Zhoushan Archipelago, analyzing the local, regional, and transnational forces that shaped struggles for the control of these common-pool natural resources and transformed the marine ecosystem.
In addition to these books, I have published articles on China's role in global environmental history, maritime connections between Mainland China and Taiwan, international conflicts over hydrocarbon resources in the South China Sea, and other topics.