Coping with Calamity explores the causes and outcomes of environmental change in central China’s Hunan Province. Specifically, the text examines the transformative effects that human action had on the Jianghan Plain during the Qing (1644–1919) and Republican (1911–1949) periods. By exploiting an impressive range of local archival sources, Zhang skillfully illustrates how the massive re-engineering of the waterscape that rendered the Plain a critical agricultural region in China ultimately led to a breakdown of its drainage infrastructure. By the late Qing and Republic eras, farmers had creatively adopted strategies to defend against a growing set of ecological threats, but these measures served only to abet the ecological breakdown of the region. The entire set of mutually implicating economic, social, and cultural responses to environmental breakdown impels Zhang to argue, “[T]his demonstrates that environmental factors, more than class relations or market dynamics, defined the agrarian economy of the Jianghan Plain in...

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