Cover of Contested Environmentalisms by Cheng Li
Contested Environmentalisms
Trees and the Making of Modern China
Cheng Li

January 2025
272 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503640306



The Chinese revolution was a forestry revolution. For decades, tree planting has been at the heart of Chinese environmental endeavors, and forestry is pivotal to its environmentalism and green image more generally. During the Mao era, while forests were razed to fuel rapid increases in industrial production, the "Greening the Motherland" campaign also promoted conservationist tree-planting nationwide. Contested Environmentalisms explores the seemingly contradictory rhetoric and desires of Chinese conservation from the early twentieth century through to the present day. Examining ethnic borderlands, the Beijing political center, and China's growth on the world stage, this book demonstrates the strength of Chinese environmentalism to adapt and survive through tumultuous change lies in what seems to be a weakness: its inconsistency and contestation.

Drawing on literary, cinematic, scientific, archival, and digital media sources, Cheng Li investigates the emergence, evolution, and devolution of Chinese conservationist ideas, showing that they acquired their value and assumed their power precisely because of their malleability and adaptability. Li situates Chinese environmental science within the context of global scientific knowledge transfer, probing the dynamics underlying conservationist ideas that energize environmental impulses in China, and shedding light on authoritarian environmentalism from cultural and historical perspectives.

About the author

Cheng Li is Assistant Professor of Chinese Studies at Carnegie Mellon University.