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The desertification of China



A recent posting mentioned the Chinese government-sponsored research on desertification, and asked if there were talk of moving the capital from Beijing to Nanjing. Paul Simon replied: "Desertification in China is probably worse that the government admits. Dunes are now under 100 km west of Beijing and get closer every year. and I did indeed scratch my cornea in a dust storm in Changchun (Jilin, Manchuria) last year, hardly a "desert" area. I've seen rivers that were once navigable, like the Liao and Songhua, turn bone dry. I wrote a cable to Washington about this entitled "A River Trickles Through It".

In Liaoning province, once all fertile, I was horrified one day to cross a ridgeline heading west and encounter total crop failure, dried up ponds and streams, and rural desperation. Huge cities like Shenyang, Changchun, Harbin, and Dalian all had water rationing last summer. In the Tang dynasty poets waxed ecstatic over the whispering pine forests for Shaanxi province. Try and find a tree there now...Those who have been chatting with me awhile know that one of my reservations about the Beijing Olympics has been a fear that the Government will pump the capital's water sources dry in an attempt to "greenify" for the event. Then in 2009/10 ecological ruin could result.

So to the question: Has the government considered moving the capital south to someplace better-watered? Yes, but not too seriously. One sees the occasional speculative piece in the Hong Kong press, but no plans thus far. Nanjing may be tainted by association (it is still the capital of the "Republic of China", ask anyone in Taiwan). But there are plenty of other former capitals like Wuhan (a combination of 3 ancient cities and right on the Yangtze)".

Ronald Hilton - 1/31/02


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