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When A Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Become the World's First Green Superpower or its Last Environmental Assassin

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  263 ratings  ·  44 reviews

As a young child, Jonathan Watts believed if everyone in China jumped at the same time, the earth would be shaken off its axis, annihilating mankind. Now, more than thirty years later, as a correspondent for The Guardian in Beijing, he has discovered it is not only foolish little boys who dread a planet-shaking leap by the world’s most populous nation.

When a Billion Chi

Paperback, 416 pages
Published October 26th 2010 by Scribner (first published July 1st 2010)
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Watts' evocative title is taken from his childhood prayer begging god to prevent the Earth being shaken from its axis by the force of the world's largest population landing in concert. His book offers no prospect of avoiding an equivalent catastrophe for the biosphere; 'China has jumped' he states, and we must all rebalance our lives. Region by region, he examines the activities pushing China's ecosystems beyond their limits.

The global consequences are stark. The rich, minority world has exporte
Mike Koscielny
I don't know if I've read a book more well researched. Thorough and thoughtful, I found many of the chapters to provide a lot of good insight into China and some of its environmental problems.

I appreciated that Watts never vilified China or its people for its problems, never made China out to be the only problem in the world, nor made them the scapegoat for what is obviously the entire planet's problem.

If I have a complaint about the book, it's just that parts can be rather depressing. However
Kevin McAllister
I decided to read this book because of it's interesting and catchy title. But unfortunately, it turned out to be one of the scariest and depressing books I've ever read. We all know about the booming Chinese economy, but using very convincing statistics, as well as personal histories Jonathan Watts demonstrates how this rapid economic boom is coming at a huge cost to the environment. He talks of the attempts China is making to "go green" but with a population of 1.4 billion all trying attain a h ...more
Oh, boy - I almost didn't finish this book. Not because it wasn't a good book, but rather because I was feeling so despaired! The author took you on journeys around different regions in China and highlighted problems that each region was facing, mostly environmental. The issues included deforestation, drought, pollutions, and agricultural. The book flowed really well from one chapter to another, though it was hard to find many positive things. One thing that really stuck out in my mind was when ...more
I didn't like this book at all, it just make me mad most of the time. It was full of scientific misinterpretations that lead to mischieving conclusions about environment in China.

I think what made me most mad was that, by the way it was written, it seemed like China was destroying the planet all by themselves by rising their living standards. But who is a European to critisize that, when we are the ones that actually set the living standard, to say that we can live like that but they cannot? Plu
The section on Chinese workers sorting through the Western's world recycling stood out the most. It was depressing to find out that recycling materials make their way to China and that it is a horribly dangerous job sorting through these items. Is there any win to this situation?
The stories of the Chinese workers reminded me of Factory Girls by Leslie Chang. If you have a chance, read it and you'll never want to see a designer handbag again.
Overall, the book really made me wonder what the actual
Here Jonathan Watts offers a detailed summary by region of the effects China's large population, rapid development, and pollutant-intensive industries (of which North America and Europe have for the most part washed their hands) are having on the world's environment--particularly as far as species extinction, water scarcity, desertification, and global warming. He concludes that until grassroots movements reach a tipping point, progress is unlikely, since national policies often conflict (with t ...more
Bruno de Maremma
A very disturbing and ultimately a very depressing review of the environmental mayhem underway as China industrializes at a frenzied pace. Like christian thought in the west, the Confucian mindset in China has people believing that man is the natural master of nature. The results of this mindset are catastrophic. A good part of this virulent industrialisation is of coursed fueled by the need to feed the demands of western consumers. Read it and weep.
Sarah Hay
Mental read. Watts goes to places we're never going to go. It's a travel book but through the lense of China being the factory/eco dumping ground of the world. Really, really opened my eyes reading this book. Unreal stuff. And it gets exciting too as he goes to places he's really not supposed to be. He's currently the Latin America correspondent for The Guardian now.
Theme: Development and climate change as demonstrated so dramatically in China over the past decade or so, should waken us all to the need to re-examine our reliance on capitalist driven consumerist philosophy. The author, a Guardian newspaper journalist, travelled throughout China in the first decade of the 21st century. Describing his travels and the people he met, he looks at such as scarcity of clean water, monoculture issues, the loss of species, increasing pollution, etc. These problems ar ...more
There are hundreds of books about China in my office at the university. Some are fiction, most are nonfiction. With such a large selection, it has been difficult to choose what to read. In the beginning I stuck with travel memoirs, my genre of choice when traveling. However, the longer I stayed in China, the more I became interested in specific aspects of the culture and history – mostly having to do with the environment and the treatment of women. I have been wanting to write some reviews about ...more
Joseph Mckenna
With his witty title, "When a Billion Chinese Jump", Jonathan Watts uses his rather humorous childhood nightmare as launching pad to look at the consequences of China's emergence as a consumer power. The book is fast paced, and the Watts manages to find a broad range of topics and geographical contexts to avoid the trap of treating China as a hegemonic unit.

While the details and individual stories change, the underlying theme does not. Environmental degradation, overwhelming pollution and inabil
Most countries around the world have issues and problems that are internal. What give Jonathan Watts the right to write and condemn China? You have to think positive and the approach you have done is completely opposite to "The Law of Attraction". Have you not read "The Secret"? Jonathan has the brain of a pea and could not see beyond the horizon.

There are environmental failures in countries like Japan, America, Australia and even in New Zealand, his home country.

The main reason is because he k
Dan Schiff
Watts is an incredibly dogged reporter, putting himself in some politically risky situations and traveling to some of the most desolate places in northern and western China to paint a portrait of the country. When A Billion Chinese Jump should indeed "be compulsory reading for all," as the review on the cover states. For any businessperson who thinks "China is the present and the future," the book explains how much more complex (and ominous) the reality is.

The book's subtitle, "How China Will Sa
Lindsay Eaton
Jonathan Watts is an award-winning journalist and the UK Guardian's Asia environment correspondent. His book is a fascinating but horrifying account of the environmental consequences of China’s massive economic growth. While at times I found it really depressing, it’s also proved to be one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read. “Each chapter covers a different region of China, and also a different issue: deforestation, pollution, erosion, conspicuous consumption, carbon emissions. I ...more
Jun 30, 2011 Kate rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in China or the environment
Recommended to Kate by: Oscar
Shelves: favoritereads
Was inspired to read this book after a recent trip to Shanghai where I witnessed some appalling pollution firsthand.

Very interesting look at how rapid development is hurting the environment in China.

Most interesting is probably how its unique system of government is especially detrimental to the environment.

The author summarizes this by explaining:

"China's political system is neither dictatorship nor democracy. For the environment, it contains the worst elements of both. At the top, the state
DONE!!!! This book took a long time to get through. Why did it take me about 4 or 5 months to finish it? Was it boring? Far from it!
Lots of interesting findings and information exhaustively researched, I'm sure, by Watts. Most of it though, was terrifying and sad. The most surprising thing, to me, after reading this book is the amount of trash and recyclables that we throw away is just shipped to China! Sure it's out of our hair but someone else has to deal with it. I had no idea. This doesn't
Covers the full beadth of environmental issues, along with plenty of personal stories about the change that China has underwent. The industrialization of China is portrayed somewhat as a fast-forwarded version of the world's, the environmental mistakes made first, cleaned up/and pushed to different areas. Favourite quote, of Cindy Tai:
"My dream now is to cerate an organic farm. I would like to grow food, vegetables, to raise pigs and chickens. And to have a helicopter to drive me around because
Gavin Anderson
Sort of backed up what I knew in a general sense. Contained many details about the terrible damage to the environment and animals numbers that happened during the great leap forward, and the large scale development and pollution that has gone on over the last 20 years.

I get a sense that things are starting to turn around but there is stiil a massive way to go. Eg China has strong environment protection laws, but 90% are ignored.

The green developments appear small and or symbolic, outweighted by
Michael Saugstad
Unnecessarily sensationalist, but I should expect that from a journalist. Watts has a lot of interesting first hand experience to draw from as he articulates some of the complex and serious environmental issues that China is facing.

Kiinnostava lähinnä anekdoottien ja maan kuvaamisen vuoksi. Välillä tekstissä häiritsevää asenteellisuutta ja asenteita, jotka tuntuvat omituisilta. Esim. mitä ihmettä kirjoittaja tarkoittaa "Riippumatta siitä kuinka vähän todisteita on, ihmisillä on hyvä syy olla huolissaan" lausahduksella? Siellä täällä hän tuntuu tuovan esille far-out teorioita lähinnä sen vuoksi, koska ne sopivat hänen valitsemaansa juoneen. ..ja miten hitossa auringonvalosta ja hiilidioksidista muodostetaan vetyä? Tällaisi
I started to read this for a nature center book club but couldn't finish it. It was heartbreaking what this country is doing to the planet and their own country in the name of improving their economic status. It outlines how the Chinese industrialization is paramount and its effects on the local and planetary environment. We as a country did the same to some degree but we didn't have the information about its effect when we did it. The Chinese know and have decided to get a leg up in the world a ...more
Eve Kay
Wow how ginormously this book was researched! It's really comprehensive and covers all of China in my view. It's the only book I've read on the country and I'm so glad I read such an extensive work that covered all sides of it within one set of covers. There is: history, politics, religion, regular people and higher class, contruction and entertainment, rulers and the ones ruled and those damn projects, destroying those fields of flowers and ending rain as we know it, then creating rain out of n ...more
Teresa Cairns
Feb 21, 2012 Teresa Cairns is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I'm currently reading this book as part of a seminar on the Geography of China by The Jackson School, the Seattle Chinese Garden, and the East Asia Resource Center (EARC). Just one of many great resources they're already given me, I'm so far enjoying Watts' writing style. As a kid, his parents told him if all the Chinese decided to jump at the same time, they would tip the planet. This is a travelogue and a lesson primer on the state of environmental affairs in lots of places in China you've nev ...more
If you want to be depressed,this book is for you! Watts takes you on a tour of all of the environmental and ecological disasters of developing China. Just when you think it can't get worse, it does. Each chapter gets progressively more depressing. I kept waiting for the "How China Will Save the World" part, but that part is compressed into ten short pages at the end of the book. The subtitle really should have been, "How China Will Destroy the World-- or Save it." Read at the peril of your happi ...more
A truly remarkably inventory of environmental jeopardy in today's China.
Similar to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in its alarming description of what has already been lost or is seriously threatened as Watts (who covers China and environmental issues for the Manchester Guardian) takes us on a tour of nearly every province in China. This is essential but disturbing reading.
Lawrence Casiraya
Makes you think twice about going to Beijing or Shanghai.
Good "bookend" to The Freedom Manifesto. Really highlights what it means to encourage consumerism.

Topic was well-researched and detailed and narrative flowed well. Very well-balanced presentation of environmental situation in China in the wake of progress and how it is being tackled (or not).
Don't read this book if you don't want to be depressed about the state of the planet. As the subtitle indicates, there is a choice, but most of the book convinced me of the second option. It is hard not to be cynical after reading this, but it is definitely an eye opener.
read this on the beach at koh samui, thailand - its a shame every businessman and politician dealing with modern china wasnt forced to read this book - one of the best books of the last 10 years on china, sums up the environmental impact of rapid economic growth
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