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A Tree Grows in China

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Naturalists, Nationalists, and the Responsibility of Protecting China’s “Living Fossil” Redwood

image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

In the mid-1940s, the discovery of a living metasequoia glyptostroboides in China made international headlines. American naturalists sought to influence the Nationalist government’s policy to protect the species, although many retained doubts about the regime’s capability to do so. These naturalists also feared that local communities threatened the tree’s continued existence. This article examines how notions of responsibility informed American discussions about attitudes toward environmental protection, scientific knowledge production, and the duties of state and society concerning these matters in China. This way of thinking about China reflected not only an older discourse about China’s capacity to initiate Western-inspired change, but also the weak state of the government of the Republic of China and new approaches to nature protection after 1945. The Nationalist government’s retreat from the mainland coincided with an acceptance among American naturalists that the Chinese state and its society lacked responsible attitudes for American-styled environmental protection.

Affiliations: 1: Boston University, awbell@bu.edu

10.1163/18765610-02303006
/content/journals/10.1163/18765610-02303006
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/content/journals/10.1163/18765610-02303006
2016-10-27
2018-10-18

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