Overpopulated, but Still Untamed
Wild China: Natural Wonders of the World’s Most Enigmatic Land, by Phil Chapman and the BBC Wild China Team (Yale University Press, $29.95, paper), is the companion book to a six-part television series now available on DVD. Its lavish photographs take the reader on a tour that starts in the center of the country and then radiates outward, first going north into Manchuria and Mongolia, and then moving in a counterclockwise circle over the Tibetan plateau down to Yunnan. From there, the tour proceeds to the southern farming region, and finally to the coast. The book concludes with a “gazetteer,” a sort of mini-guidebook that highlights the wildlife, landscape and cultural icons of each region. The focus is on nature, but the reader also gets glimpses of human-made treasures and insights into the populace, whose welfare is of course intrinsically interconnected with that of the country’s wildlife.
It’s encouraging to know that environmental consciousness is on the rise in China. There are now 2,194 nature reserves there, covering some 15 percent of the country. The nation has an abundance of rare species, such as those found in the southern valleys and tropical rain forests of Yunnan. The Yellow Mountains, a World Heritage Site, contain ancient Huangshan pine trees and many other plants that are found nowhere else. And because so many regions are remote, there are still many large mammals in the wild.
Perhaps the most striking scenery is to be found in the “Great Rice Bowl” region of southeastern China, which contains most of the karst landscape—steeply carved limestone hills of the sort pictured above, some of which harbor subterranean caverns.—Fenella Saunders