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Environment in Asia Series featuring Zhang Meng – Timber and Forestry in Qing China: Sustaining the Market
September 21, 2021 @ 1:45 pm – 3:00 pm
Speaker: Zhang Meng, Assistant Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Part of the Environment in Asia lecture series
In the Qing period, China’s population tripled, and the flurry of new development generated unprecedented demand for timber. Standard environmental histories have often depicted this as an era of reckless deforestation. The reality was more complex: as old-growth forests were cut down, new economic arrangements emerged to develop renewable timber resources. Timber and Forestry traces the expansion of an interregional trade network to cover the entire basin of the Yangzi River. Of driving concern were questions of sustainability: How to maintain a reliable source of timber across decades and centuries? And how to sustain a business network across a thousand miles? Delving into rare archives to reconstruct property rights systems and business histories, the book considers both the formal legal mechanisms and the informal interactions that helped balance economic profit with environmental management. This case from China has important implications for world-historical conversations on resource management, commercialization, and sustainable development.
Meng Zhang (張萌) is Assistant Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. She received her B.A. in economics from Peking University (2010) and Ph.D. in history from UCLA (2017). Zhang is a historian of late imperial China, with particular interests in economic and environmental transformations and transnational dynamics in the rise of global capitalism. Her first book, Timber and Forestry in Qing China: Sustaining the Market (University of Washington Press, 2021), reveals the complex reality of timber trade and resource management during the flurry of commercial development in Qing China. She is working on a second project that follows the social life of edible bird’s nests through the transnational construction of knowledge, desire, trade, and credit across early modern China and Southeast Asia.