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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 7 September 2010
If you're even half-considering getting this book, I highly recommend you do. This will appeal to anyone even vaguely interested in China, its history and culture, or its role in the world today and in the years to come.

Divided into 16 chapters each based on a different region of China and a slightly different environmental/social issue, each section balances hard, often jaw-dropping, facts and figures with interesting, often amusing and compassionate, accounts of individual lives and interviews. The result is a persuasive, highly educational book which uses human interest to bring the issues to life and still ensure this is a genuine pleasure to read and never hard work for the reader.

It's also a very fair book. Watts presents views of differing sides of each issue and, though passionate about environmental issues and the need for humanity to change its culture, doesn't lecture the reader nor side against one factor, be it Chinese rulers, consumer culture, capitalism or historical Western practices. Not without well explained reasoning, anyway.

This is a book that could and should interest someone with an already substantial knowledge of China and the issues concerned. But it is also a book written in such a way that is very accessible to a more casual reader who has enjoyed the odd Sunday papers world news article. For the latter, if 400 plus pages seems like too much of a commitment, each chapter would stand up pretty well on its own for more casual dipping into. If you need more convincing, maybe read some of Watts's online Guardian/Observer articles as a taste. Not that they quite do justice to the scale of the project he has undertaken here.

Journalism at its best.
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VINE VOICEon 30 April 2011
This is travel writing at its best. Having lived in China for a number of years it is clear that Jonathan Watts knows a great deal about what he is talking about and manages to weave together one story about an emerging China with another about the unique characteristics of each region and what makes some more successful, both economically and environmentally, than others.

The book follows Jonathan Watts as he travels through regions of China, some regions being a chapter by themselves and others being combined together. Each chapter combines a potted history about the region(s) presented alongside the current state of the region(s), astounding facts and figures and personal testimonies about the effects of economic development upon the environment.

As stated by previous reviewers, this book is non-judgemental in its assessment of China. It does state the environmental pitfalls of economic development and as said, gives some astounding facts and figures in doing so, but also states quite clearly the progress that China is making towards green development. In doing so, you are allowed to come to your own conclusion about China's green credentials and whether China is seeking dominion or stewardship over their (and others) environments.

An eye-opening read.
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on 3 May 2011
China overtook the US as the world's biggest emitter of carbon this year, and has doggedly stood by its rights to develop and industrialize, and nobody is going to tell China what to do. At the same time, China has more installed solar capacity than any other country, has the biggest high speed rail network, and is pioneering green technologies from carbon capture and storage to electric car batteries.

'When a Billion Chinese Jump' is the book that makes sense of China's role in a world of climate change, and what an excellent book it is too. The title comes from the author's childhood fear that if everyone in China jumped at once, the earth would tilt off its axis. Now, he reasons, a billion Chinese have jumped - economically speaking - and the earth needs to rebalance.

The book is written as a travelogue. Jonathan Watts makes his way across the country from West to East, investigating a variety of environmental issues along the way. It's a great travel book in itself, full of local characters and exotic places, both pleasant and unpleasant. Watts travels to disaster zones, goes down coal mines, and is shown around eco-city building sites and model communist villages. Each chapter in the book covers a different region of China, and also a different issue: deforestation, pollution, erosion, conspicuous consumption, carbon emissions. It is at times a little terrifying, more often tragic - the price of China's industrial success is misery for millions of ordinary people.

Watts puts this all in its historical context, from the peasant culture of rural China to Mao's 'Great Leap Forward', and teases out the cultural trends behind China's actions. He also sees China's role as crucial to the future of the planet. "The planet's problems were not made in China," he writes, "but they are sliding past the point of no return here."

China can never extend an American way of life to every one of it's billion citizens - the climate would be destabilised in the process, and resource limits breached. If it is to succeed, China must re-invent industry and follow a different development path. With its huge reserve of labour and remarkable ability to pull off national projects, it may well pull it off. Through that great project, the book's tagline suggests, `China will save the World - or destroy it'.
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on 19 August 2013
Watts' evocative title is taken from his childhood prayer begging god to prevent the Earth being shaken from its axis by the force of the world's largest population landing in concert. His book offers no prospect of avoiding an equivalent catastrophe for the biosphere; 'China has jumped' he states, and we must all rebalance our lives. Region by region, he examines the factors pushing China's ecosystems beyond their limits. The global consequences are stark. The rich, minority world has exported dirty industries and actual waste to China, where an ever bigger mess has to be swept under an ever shrinking rug. Western governments have claimed carbon savings without counting the exported emissions. Watts' interviews with Chinese people in all sorts of social positions reveal a prevailing preoccupation with economic growth and increasing affluence. Environmental concern is worryingly far from people's minds, often despite serious impacts on their lifestyles. Mao's Great Leap Forward, which instituted reckless hydro-engineering and foolhardy agricultural experiments, and caused a population explosion, is blamed for much of the 'develop now, clean up later' attitude, but Watts is quick to point out that the West developed with as little thought for wider impacts.

Filthy coal power emissions and desertification are major problems, which impact strongly on what I find the most disturbing problem; increasing pressure on water resources. China's waterways are under stress and in many cases too polluted to use. Himalayan glaciers, which provide a steady supply for the lands below, are being steadily depleted. Talk of redirecting waterways from India to irrigate Northern China hint at major conflicts in the future. Both countries have areas of severe shortage. Watts points out that China is buying land in Africa to feed its citizens. Dark shadows of carbon wars hang in the future... Watts searches hard for the seeds of hope, investigating China's much-vaunted green investments and conservation programs, finding many serious flaws. Throughout the book, he contrasts Confucianism, which focuses on human society, with Daoism, which focuses on harmony with nature. His conclusion draws on these roots: science must help, but it cannot be the solution. In China the limits to growth are being hit. The global economy will have to restructure. In order for this to happen, there must be a shift to Daoist values.
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on 27 September 2011
If you read Watts' Guardian articles then much of this will be familiar, but it's still worth buying as an important and very readable summary of at least one aspect of modern China. Although Frank Dikotter's 'Mao's Great Famine' was a well written and scholarly historical work, I think this book should have been the one winning awards. It's more relevant to present-day China and the effect it will have on the rest of the world. It's scope extends far beyond narrow environmental concerns. My one criticism, as someone based in China for a few years, is that Watts is perhaps too optimistic regarding the logical endpoint of what's happening here. The subtitle is 'How China Will Save Mankind - Or Destroy It', as though these are two possibilities carrying equal weight. The text of the book, rightly, suggests otherwise.
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on 29 November 2011
this is an amazing book - the way it is written and the content it conveys. if there were 6 or 7 start rankings the book would deserve more than five stars.

for everybody interested in how china manages its environment - often impressive (the reforestation) but often also frightening (the south north waters, the multitude of dams) or amazing (the breeding of pandas) this book is a must read - very much the shape of things to come
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on 1 October 2010
A great read for anyone who likes travelogs. The environment does not have to be of interest to the reader to enjoy this books which is filled with fasanating facts & figures. Some of the items are troubling, yet others are light hearted with wonderful examples of Chinese life.
Best of all the book is not preachy...although the authors does manage to make a few pertinent poitns.
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on 12 April 2013
This book gave me what I was looking for, a more hands-on account of how China is really developing, what the people there feel and think about the development & the significant environmental price they seem to be paying. Well written, but there could have been more local area maps, perhaps photos also.
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on 5 September 2014
Very interesting author and a thought provoking analysis on what is happening in China since the country became more open to the world. The battle between economic expansion and care for the environment is discussed in depth, also in relation to how this affects the chinese people themselves.
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on 16 September 2010
This is a fascinating and horrifying book about the determination of the Chinese authorities to achieve massive economic growth regardless of the dreadful consequences for the environment in terms of appalling levels of pollution, over exploitation of natural reserves and the health of its people. As the author argues so cogently we all live on a planet that has finite resources and what has been happening and is continuing to happen in China is of grave concern to the rest of the world. One can only hope that China will finally, albeit belatedly, realise that it needs to treat conservation seriously not only to protect its own future but also that of mankind as a whole.
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