Sink or Swim

The World of Chinese - - COVER STORY -

En­vi­ron­men­tal re­searcher Cleo Paskal once told en­vi­ron­men­tal NGO China Di­a­logue that China’s ap­proach to cli­mate dis­as­ters re­sem­bled that of “King Cnut”, in ref­er­ence to the 12th-cen­tury Scan­di­na­vian king who, de­pend­ing the ver­sion of the story, ei­ther ar­ro­gantly told the tides to stay away from his royal per­son, or re­al­ized from the ex­pe­ri­ence his pow­er­less­ness to com­mand God and na­ture.

Both ver­sions fit the Chi­nese case. On the one hand, blessed or cursed by its long recorded his­tory, en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters in China are still of­ten dis­cussed in terms of his­tor­i­cal pat­terns, thus are more or less nat­u­ral and sta­tis­ti­cal in­evitabil­i­ties rather than man­made phe­nom­ena.

On the other hand, as an eco­nom­i­cally ad­vanc­ing and sci­en­tific so­ci­ety, Chi­nese re­searchers and of­fi­cials fa­vor ap­proaches to dis­as­ter man­age­ment that em­pha­size in­fras­truc­tural im­prove­ments, heavy en­gi­neer­ing, and stream­lined of­fi­cial re­sponses. The dis­as­trous “once-in100-years” flood­ing of the Yangtze

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