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  • Discovering Nature: Globalization and Environmental Culture in China and Taiwan
  • Jerry McBeath (bio)
Robert P. Weller . Discovering Nature: Globalization and Environmental Culture in China and Taiwan. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006. viii, 189 pp. Hardback $70.00, ISBN-13 978–0–521–83959–4. Paperback, ISBN-13 978–0–521–54841–0.

Until Taiwan's colonization by Japan in 1895, it shared in the Chinese cultural traditions. Then, for more than 100 years, Taiwan developed independently, under common rule with other Chinese provinces only from 1945 to 1949. Both direct rule by Japanese colonial authorities (1895–1945) and single-party rule under the Kuomintang (1945–1988) set Taiwan on a different course from mainland China, with the difference accentuated when Taiwan entered the ranks of democratic societies in the late 1980s.

Given the common cultural orientations and then differing economic and political experiences, China and Taiwan are prime subjects for comparative analysis. What, if any, impacts have political and economic differences of a century had on cultural attitudes and beliefs? Do residents of today's China and Taiwan think and act differently concerning the environment?

This is the broad approach Robert Weller takes in his monograph Discovering Nature. Weller is an anthropologist at Boston University who has done a number of [End Page 596] studies in both Taiwan and China. His book does not present results of new fieldwork in the countries. Instead, it consists of reflections based on the literature and on his earlier research. The study has two objectives: (1) to explore the direct influence of globalization through new environmental thought and its indirect impact in reaction to industrialization and commercialization, and (2) to examine the influence of different forms of state power represented in Taiwan and China (p. 4).

The volume has five substantive chapters. Chapter 2 examines how residents of China and Taiwan viewed human-environmental relationships before the diffusion of Western ideas (such as the concept of nature itself, translated by Chinese as ziran) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Weller emphasizes the diverse intellectual and religious traditions expressing Chinese beliefs. Chapter 3 studies the growing influence of Western anthropocentric concepts, such as human conquest of nature and the idea of progress as a linear march forward. It also treats opposing concepts of the Romantics, which give wilderness intrinsic value, as well as pastoralism as the antithesis to urbanization.

The fourth chapter compares and contrasts the origins and development of natural tourism and parks in China and Taiwan. Taiwan developed natural tourism earlier than China, and its national park system was modeled on that of the United States (and its provincial parks on Japan's system). China, on the other hand, looked to models from the United Nations and the World Conservation Union. This action indicates the divergence in strands of globalization. Weller notes a combination of religion and natural tourism in both Taiwan and China, which he says supports "the sorts of globalization theory that focus on creole culture" (p. 100).

Chapter 5 treats environmental protest at local and national levels. Locally, there are some similar linkages of grassroots protests to religious institutions and practices. At the national level, China's authoritarian system curbs growth of the environmental movement and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which are fully grown in Taiwan. However, the NGO sector in both states is more attuned to global than local trends, and issues of importance locally appear to disappear. Weller suggests that "cultural differences between local and national or international organizations" put "limits on the ability of global discourse to penetrate everywhere" (p. 134).

Chapter 6 considers implementation deficits in both states, and "a regular slippage between policy and practice" (p. 15), or as the Chinese so frequently say, "There are policies from above and countermeasures from below" (p. 138). Global pressures as well as pollution and other serious environmental problems explain development of new environmental institutions and policies, but they are difficult to implement locally. As Weller notes, one finds accommodation to new policies at the local level and both collaboration and resistance; "Policy failure here comes when different cultural frames and modes of discourse fail to mesh" (p. 157).

In the conclusion, Weller stresses three areas...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 596-598
Launched on MUSE
2008-11-28
Open Access
No
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