Book Review: The River, the Plain, and the State

Zhang, Ling. The River, the Plain, and the State: An Environmental Drama in Northern Song China, 1048-1128 (Cambridge University Press, 2016) Print edition.

Chinese imperial management of water has been one of the critical keys to following the history of imperial after the Zhou Dynasty. Some of the bedrock work in US environmental history took as its starting point Karl Wittfogel’s “Hydraulic empire” thesis, looking at state control of water and society and how that relates to the development of both the US government and the American West. Because Chinese records are so copious, a lot of work can and has been done looking at how the Chinese lived with and coped with their major rivers and the hydraulic “systems” that developed over thousands of years. This book focuses on a small space in time and shows how the complicated interactions of state, environment, and society caused, then reacted to, and were shaped by, the Yellow River changing course between 1048 and 1128. Continue reading

Live Forever? Oh Heck No

Mom and Dad Red were watching a documentary about the Amur River the other night. I was listening with half an ear, trying not to add commentary, and reading a book about a different Chinese river. One of the commercials was an advertisement for a program about what if humans could eliminate all the things that keep us from having physical immortality. My first reaction was to mutter, “I’ve read that book. It was depressing.” My second was to recoil from the mindset that would find physical immortality so desirable. Because to me it suggests a world that gives up on the idea of an eternity, and focuses on the material alone. We’ve seen that. It gets ugly, very quickly. Continue reading

Dialectic, Trialectic, or Just Tell the Story?

I’m in the process of reading a fascinating environmental history of the Yellow River valley during late Song Dynasty China (AD 1048-1128). The author does a very good job telling the story and putting all the environmental, social, and governmental pieces into place leading up to the Big Flood Disaster. But oh, the theoretical jargon and the footnotes! The author handles it well as such things go and does not get lost in the thickets of theories and analyses at the expense of telling the story, unlike some. But still, I’m reminded of the gulf that can exist between academic historians and history readers, even when it is unintentional. Continue reading

Posting over the Next Month

Howdy, your friendly neighborhood blogger here.

If things have been a bit sparse, it is because the End of the Semester is Nigh, with all that entails. You know, chaos, despair, the frantic rush for extra-credit, valiant fights to stay alert and paying attention, the clawing at the coffee maker to get that one last critical drop…

I have been writing posts and pre-loading them for June, as well as for May. I will be with spotty internet at best for several weeks, and so in addition to having posts pre-loaded, the comments will be closed because I might not have access in order to approve things. It will be a once-every-other-day schedule for the most part after Memorial Day until I’m back on solid ‘Net.

Thank you for your patience.

Mid-May Playa 2017

So, things are settling down around the playa. There have not been any heavy, localized storms to drop concentrated rain on the lake, so the water is limited to the middle, and it’s more mud than water. But the warm-season plants are thriving.

A forb. With pretty flowers that peaked a few days before I was able to take the photo, of course.

The gradations in color mark the different rings of plants leading into the marshy area.

Continue reading