Traditional historiography, which has always emphasized social phenomena and insisted on a stark dichotomy between the human and the natural, has paid little attention to the environment. However, as decades of ecological crises have drawn headlines and attracted the attention of other social scientists, historians have also paid more attention to environmental issues, linking them with the destiny of mankind. Environmental history has focused on the interactions between the natural setting and human societies. A recent contribution to this field by Hu Huifang is Environmental Change and Social Control in the Huai River Basin, 1912–1949.

Hu sets up her discussion by invoking the concept of “social control” developed by sociologists, speaking of “managing the human behaviors related to nature to achieve effective environmental controls and protections: adjusting behavior and attitudes toward the natural environment” (109–13). The environmental controls identified by Hu in...

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