War, Water, Power: An Environmental History of Henan’s Yellow River Flood Area, 1938-1952

War, Water, Power: An Environmental History of Henan's Yellow River Flood Area, 1938-1952

Micah Muscolino - Associate Professor of History, Georgetown University

Monday, April 9, 2012 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Room 203, Luce Hall See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 6511

During the conflict known in China as the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance (1937-1945), the Chinese Nationalist military blasted the Yellow River dikes in Henan province in 1938 to forestall a Japanese advance. Perhaps the single most environmentally damaging act of war in world history, this strategic decision threw long-established water control infrastructure into disarray, leading to widespread and persistent flooding. The Yellow River’s floodwaters inundated vast tracts of intensely cultivated land during the conflict, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing millions. Greater horror came in 1941-1943, when flood damage combined with inclement climate conditions, wartime dislocation, and heavy taxes and grain levies exacted by Chinese and Japanese armies in Henan to bring about a famine in which two to three million died and three million Henan residents were forced to take flight. These disasters testify to the vulnerability of human-shaped environments like north China’s agricultural landscapes and hydraulic infrastructure to war-induced disruption. After assessing the ecological consequences of these war-induced disasters, this presentation examines how local residents and state actors in Henan labored to transform devastated environments into productive agro-ecosystems during the late-1940s and early-1950s. In addition to presenting a graphic example of the immediate impact of military conflict, which has been the focus of most existing scholarship on the environmental history of warfare, the history of Henan’s Yellow River flood area illustrates the human capacity to restore the viability of war-damaged landscapes after war’s an end. Micah Muscolino’s area of expertise is the environmental history of late imperial and modern China. He teaches undergraduate courses on Global Environmental History, Chinese Environmental History, and the Pacific World. He also teaches a graduate seminar on China in World History. Before coming to Georgetown he taught for two years at Saint Mary’s College of California, where he offered classes on Chinese History, East Asian History, and World History. He spent 2010-2011 as a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ with support from a Mellon Fellowship for Assistant Professors. He has also been awarded fellowships and grants from Fulbright (IIE), the Center for Chinese Studies at the National Central Library in Taiwan, and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation.