PUBLISHED JUNE 2012 (second edition 2016): China’s Environmental Challenges (Polity) In this trailblazing book, noted China specialist and environmentalist Judith Shapiro investigates China’s struggle to achieve sustainable development against a backdrop of acute rural poverty and soaring middle class consumption. Shapiro poses a number of pressing questions: do the Chinese people have the right to the higher living standards enjoyed in the developed world? Are China’s environmental problems so severe that they may shake the government’s stability, legitimacy and control? To what extent are China’s environmental problems due to patterns of Western consumption? And in a world of increasing limits on resources and pollution ‘sinks’, is it even possible to build an equitable system in which people enjoy equal access to resources without taking them from successive generations, from the poor, or from other species? China and the planet are at a pivotal moment; the path towards a more sustainable development model is still open. But – as Shapiro persuasively argues – making this choice will require humility, creativity, and a rejection of business as usual. The window of opportunity will not be open much longer.

To purchase the book, click on the cover image above.

What reviewers are saying:

“China’s environmental future will shape the lives of everyone on the planet in the years and decades to come. Judy Shapiro provides a wonderfully clear, accessible, and insightful account of the environmental toll of China’s explosive economic growth. This unique and revealing account will be essential reading for anyone concerned about the environmental future of China, the planet, and its people.” —Ken Conca, author of Governing Water and editor of Green Planet Blues: Four Decades of Global Environmental Politics

“This book is an ideal primer for one of the world’s most complex and important challenges. From governance and globalization to national identity and justice, Shapiro provides a nuanced and comprehensive introduction to the full range of China’s environmental problems and frames discussions on how they might be solved.” —Jonathan Watts, author of When a Billion Chinese Jump

“The rise of China’s economy is transforming the world. Judith Shapiro’s spirited analysis is a riveting journey through the environmental politics of China – with lessons and insights that anyone who is striving for a more just and sustainable future urgently needs to know.” —Peter Dauvergne, editor of Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

“Shapiro is one of the world’s leading China scholars. In this crisply written, balanced, and insightful book, Shapiro explains the political, cultural and economic factors that shape China’s ability to respond to environmental dangers. Shapiro provides a superb overview of China’s environmental protection efforts that will inform policy-makers, students and ordinary citizens for years to come. China’s Environmental Challenges is the foundational text many of us have been waiting for.” —Paul Wapner, author of Living through the End of Nature and Environmental Activism and World Civic Politics

“Shapiro uses the study of China and the environment not only as a window on Chinese society, but also as a means to explore a range of social scientific frameworks. At the same time, Shapiro encourages the reader to delve deeper: to draw on a number of diverse analytic frames to consider, and reconsider, China’s environmental challenges from a range of contrasting angle…. this is an exemplary introduction not only to China’s ecological crisis, but also to the analytic tools that might help us to understand and approach it constructively.” —Sam Geall, deputy editor of chinadialogue

“This is a well researched and balanced book about one of the great issues of our time – what the world’s second-largest economy and biggest emitter of carbon dioxide is doing to its environment and that of the world… Judith Shapiro, an American, is well qualified to write the book. She first came to China in 1979, the year her government established diplomatic relations. She has written two other books on the mainland. An academic, she teaches in the Global Environmental Politics programme at American University in Washington, DC.” —Mark O’Neil, South China Morning Post

“Judy Shapiro’s book is a very welcome contribution. The book essentially addresses China’s environment from political and legal perspectives, although much of the material could be useful in courses taught in any social studies discipline… While the approach is largely political, the book has relevance for courses in disciplines such as anthropology, human geography and sociology. Shapiro incorporates many of her own experiences in China, thereby enriching the text in the process… This book should be considered as a valuable source to cover the environment in Chinese politics courses and as an up-to-date text for the political sections of anthropology and geography courses that cover Chinese environmental problems. —Richard Louis Edmonds, The China Quarterly

“The publication of Judith Shapiro’s China’s Environmental Challenges is a much welcomed addition to the discourse on the environmental issues faced by the world’s most populous nation. It is particularly welcomed because it manages to capture many of the various threads entwined around the issues, including the drivers and trends, of China’s environmental challenges, the actions of the State as well as those of civil society, the effects of national identity and culture, and the relationship of the concept of environmental justice to China. What is particularly impressive is that such a substantial amount of information should be included in what is essentially an introductory text… It is very well written and carefully researched, and should become a standard text for those researching global sustainability, and should be required reading for all those who only see China as a business opportunity.” —Michael Paton, the University of Sydney, in the Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia

“Environmental issues and challenges in China are framed in an insightful and informative manner in this timely text. This very accessible, well-­written overview is ideally suited to 100 level students of global environmental politics or those with interests in contemporary China… I commend this book for its capacity to generate a genuine ‘feel’ for dynamics related to environmental issues in China, and the issues and debates that must be considered and negotiated in efforts to address them. Thankfully the book is not overly alarmist, and there are relatively few emotive assertions.” —Gary Brierly, the University of Auckland, in the New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies

“China has largely been run by scientists over the last two decades, and they, more than most elite groups in other countries, at least understand the science of climate change and other environmental problems. But, as Judith Shapiro shows in China’s Environmental Challenges, this matters little when they are up against the pressure to make the world’s most populous nation much richer. In the end, the longstanding trade-off between pumping out GDP at any cost and implementing environmental protection laws that might act as a drag on this all-important figure is always decided in favour of the former.” —Kerry Brown, Inside Story: Current affairs and culture from Australia and beyond

Full reviews of the book can be found below:

The China Quarterly | South China Morning Post | Studies on Asia | chinadialogue | Financial Times | FT Chinese | Consolations at the End of the World (blog) | Resolute Reader (blog)




Mao’s War Against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China (Cambridge University Press) describes how Mao’s insistence that “Man Must Conquer Nature” supplanted the Chinese ideal of “harmony between heaven and humans,” with dire consequences both for human beings and the natural environment. Told in part through the voices of average Chinese citizens and officials who lived through and participated in some of the destructive campaigns, the book shows how the abuse of people and the abuse of nature were often linked. Today, as human beings struggle to find a more harmonious relationship with the natural world, the book offers a cautionary tale with wide-ranging implications.

To purchase the book, click on the cover image above.

What reviewers are saying:

“Shapiro is a gifted storyteller, and the book is a fascinating read…a must-read for anyone interested in understanding not only all that the Chinese people have endured in their recent past but also how those turbulent times shape the current environment and future possibilities.”  —The Washington Post

“We knew that Mao traumatized the psyche of his nation. Now, thanks to Judith Shapiro’s meticulous research and fine writing, Westerners can realize just how badly he traumatized its landscape and resources. I’ve never read a better argument for openness in decision-making. An utterly fascinating book.” — Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Maybe One

“This important volume offers food for thought for those concerned about China’s environmental past and future and the broader connections between humans and nature.” — American Historical Review

“Dr. Shapiro’s well-researched book records the disastrous degradation of China’s natural environment during the era of Mao Zedong. The traditional teaching that men must live in harmony with nature was declared backward and counter-revolutionary. Scholars and experts who opposed his policy were persecuted. As a result, damage to China’s environment will take generations to recover. This book provides a timely warning, and an encouragement to the enlightened few who have realised the seriousness of the situation.” — Nien Cheng, author of Life and Death in Shanghai

“The case studies are informative and well done.” — American Political Science Review

“In an illuminating and absorbing account, Judith Shapiro reveals how Mao’s policies resulted in such massive environmental degradation that it clouds China’s future despite current conservation efforts. Even today, countries often seem to subscribe to Mao’s dictum, ‘Man Must Conquer Nature.’ China’s mistakes offer important lessons for everyone, as this timely book so lucidly describes.” — George B. Schaller, Wildlife Conservation Society; author of The Last Panda

“well-written…It tells a shocking story that needs to be told, but ends on a note of hope.” — Nature

“This book represents the first Western-language work to elucidate the environmental problems of the Mao era. Mao’s War Against Nature will become the classic book on this topic and is essential reading for anyone interested in the Chinese environment or the legacy of the Mao era. The discussions of Ma Yinchu and Huang Wanli are unique and provide excellent case studies of the problems intellectuals encountered during those years.” — Richard Louis Edmonds, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; author of Patterns of China’s Lost Harmony

“engaging…compelling” — Dow Jones News Service



Judith Shapiro and Liang Heng. Photo by Michael Mella.

Son of the Revolution (Vintage Press) tells the story of Liang Heng, born in 1954 in Changsha, a large city in Central China. The son of intellectuals (his father was a newspaper reporter for a major provincial outlet, his mother served as a ranking member in the local police), he lived his youth during a period of great turmoil in China’s not so distant past. This is his story, told first hand and recounted by Shapiro, of growing up during Great Cultural Revolution and being part of a generation that was almost lost to the trials of political and social upheaval. The tale is unique and yet also emblematic of the struggles faced — and overcome — by so many young Chinese who lived through the end of Mao’s rule in China.

To purchase the book, click on the cover image above.

What reviewers are saying:

“An Oriental Tom Jones.” — Newsweek

“A poignant inside look at what happened to ordinary citizens when the movement that ousted Chiang Kaishek’s totalitarianism turned against itself. Liang helps Americans understand the past that China’s leaders must overcome to cope with the future.”— The Chicago Sun-Times

“Three stories in one — first, a graphic, I-was-there account of what it was like to grow up during the Cultural Revolution; second, a cliffhanger love story with a happy ending; and third, a poignant analysis of how Chinese people have tried and failed, and tried again, to break out of their past. Each of these accounts is worth reading on its own.” —  The New York Review of Books

“A significant event in our understanding of China…compelling, detailed, and devastating.” — The New Republic


Other Books

Debates on the Future of Communism (St. Martin’s 1991), co-edited with Vladimir Tismaneanu.

Lifechanges: How Women Can Make Courageous Choices (Random House, 1991), with Joan Hatch Lennox.

After the Nightmare (Alfred A. Knopf 1987), an eyewitness account of China after Mao by Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro.

Cold Winds, Warm Winds: Intellectual Life in China Today (Wesleyan University Press 1987), a discussion of intellectual freedom in China in the 1980s.

Selected Articles and Book Reviews

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