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When a Billion Chinese Jump

July 24, 2012

Jonathan Watt’s book When a Billion Chinese Jump is thoroughly researched, well written and compassionate, particularly with regard to the Chinese people that suffer the consequences of Western consumption and Chinese economic development.

Watts shows us the ugly side of the miracle of the Chinese economic development, the environmental crises, and how history and tradition has shaped the Chinese view of the natural environment and its habitants.

When I – a vegetarian – studied in China in the 1990s, I was often told by Chinese that Chinese would eat anything that had legs that wasn’t a chair or a table.

“Nature”, as Watts puts it in his book, “has traditionally been valued for its utility and scope for consumption”.

Of course, it’s not so long ago that the West had a similarly utilitarian view of our natural surroundings.  But most Western countries now have strong conservationist movements and policies.

“Until the 1990s”, according to Watts, “the signs on cages at the Beijing zoo identified which parts of each animal could be eaten or used in traditional Chinese medicine”.

It’s hard to change traditions, and even harder now that more and more affluent Chinese are able to afford rare delicacies.

And when a utilitarian view of nature meets economic development then even a Wildlife Protection Law can’t help.  The Law prohibits the killing of 1300 endangered species, and promotes, among other things, captive breeding or conservation centres.

What’s interesting however is the location of these centres. Rather than being close to the endangered species habitats, half of the centres, according to Watts, “can be found near the main markets for traditional medicine and exotic food, Guangdong and Guanxi”.

Bon apetite!


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