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Ellis, E.C. 2006. Ecological revitalization of Chinese villages. Science 312(5778; June 2):1310.



Ecological Revitalization of Chinese Villages

I read R. Stone's article "Villagers drafted into China's model of sustainability (News of the Week, 7 Apr., p. 36") with great interest. In my 16 years investigating long-term ecological changes in rural China, I have witnessed numerous governmental programs aiming to link improved rural livelihoods with ecological revitalization of village landscapes (1 - 3). Energy self-sufficiency and improved land management have been central to all of these programs, which have combined national and provincial policy and organizational efforts with demonstration villages, townships, counties, and even provinces. Although often only modestly successful, China's efforts to improve rural environments are an absolute triumph when compared with those of most rural developing countries and compare well with those of many developed countries during their own industrial transition.

The convergence of national and international environmental agendas on a single rural village will inevitably cause conflict. And Huangbaiyu will probably end up as have other village experiments: Temporary improvements will ultimately be dwarfed by the needs of local people to adapt to the developments going on around them. Although local demonstration projects might therefore be avoided, these can help to highlight and fix problems before more extensive programs are implemented. Regardless, the failings of a single village experiment should be presented as a minor part of the main story. China and the Chinese continue to make major efforts, by many means, to make the best of what is arguably the greatest environmental challenge any human population has ever faced (4).

Erle C. Ellis
Department of Geography and Environmental Systems
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
211 Sondheim Hall
1000 Hilltop Circle
Baltimore, MD 21250, USA

  X. Cheng, C. R. Han, D. C. Taylor, World Dev. 20, 1127 (1992).
  T. Shi, Ecol. Econ. 42, 359 (2002).
"Opinion: Document shows determination to build a new countryside," People's Daily Online, 23 Feb. 2006 
V. Smil, China's Environmental Crisis, an Inquiry into the Limits of National Development
         (M.E. Sharpe, New York, 1993).