Tag Archives: China

“Empty Planet – The Shock of Global Population Decline” by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson

Published 2019 by Crown Publishing, 240 pages plus footnotes and index.

This book (found at my public library) took me entirely by surprise, and caused me to look on climate change (and certain other social problems) differently, and with somewhat more optimism.

The authors discuss a future drop in human population, NOT (as has often been predicted) due to climate related calamity, but due to changes in human reproductive behavior. These changes comprise the “demographic transition”, defined in Chapter One, entitled “A Brief History of Population”. For eons, the human race simply struggled to survive. Following the retreat of the last Ice Age, agriculture allowed population to increase through a series of stages, beginning with high birth rate coupled with high death rate, moving through periods of imbalance and ending (in “developed” societies) with low birth rate, long life and low death rate. Bricker and Ibbitson believe the entire global population will arrive at the latter pattern within the next two or three generations. Hence, human population with stabilize relatively soon, and then continue to fall slowly.

Having grown up reading The Population Bomb and The Limits to Growth, I was startled by this book and read it very carefully. I’ve asked the opinion of friends and even my favorite demographer (a relative), and I eagerly await their responses.

Actually, I heard the warning call of this change a few years ago. In 2015, China reversed its “one child policy”. I was VERY surprised, and failed to recognize the significance of the change. Come to think of it, 25 years ago I heard a Russian woman described as a “hero mother” because she had TWO children. I didn’t understand what was behind this.

What do demographers measure, in addition to absolute population? Birth rate is crucial. How many babies does each woman have? “Replacement” is pegged at 2.1, to allow for the fact that not all children survive to become parents. At this point, it all starts to feel personal. I had two babies. So did my parents. But their parents had 7 and 3 surviving children! What changed? American families left the farm. (The post World War II baby boom, in case you are wondering, was an aberration.)

Bricker and Ibbitson attribute falling birth rates to the education and subsequent increased employment of women, and to urbanization. They consider these changes unlikely to be reversed.

I think Empty Planet went to press just before the flareup of immigration as a “hot button” topic in the US. It would help if people on both sides of the issue would settle down and read this book! Immigrants and refugees are not identical. Most people, most of the time, prefer to live where they were born.

What do Bricker and Ibbitson project for the future? Both are Canadian, and their other collaborative publication (The Big Shift, 2013) deals with Canadian politics and culture. They expect the future big winners (nations able to maintain their populations and to innovate) to be Canada, the African states and (maybe) the United States. “WHAT?!” you squawk. Better read the book!

At some point, an entirely new concept is introduced – the post national state. I’m still trying to get a grip on it.

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“The Laughing Sutra” by Mark Salzman

I’m creating a new category for this book, which I read about 15 years ago, long before I had this blog. The category is

ADULT BOOKS THAT TURN OUT WILDLY POPULAR WITH KIDS!

Certainly Mark Salzman’s first book, the nonfiction Iron and Silk, an account of his time in China, was intended for adults. So when I came across his novel The Laughing Sutra, I expected the same. And initially, it was adult fiction. In fact, kind of scary. We witness a murder. But that was just a prologue… As I read on, and got to know the characters, I was amused and entertained, and wondered what my eleven year old son would think.

Hsun-ching and Colonel Sun are an unlikely pair of adventurers. Hsun-ching is a orphan, raised by an quiet, old monk. Colonel Sun is confused, wild, strong and lives for excitement. They join forces to seek a sutra (religious poem) wanted by the old monk.

When these two make it to the USA, the intercultural confusion blossoms into hilarity.

I started reading this book to my 11 year old, but the six year old was also captivated! We cackled our way through to the amazing climax, when Hsun-ching and the Colonel try to re-enter mainland China. (At that time, no one re-entered China. The border guards weren’t ready…) Colonel Sun became part of our family repertoire, like the characters in “Ghostbusters” and other favorites. He was at least as real to us as Superman or Johnny Appleseed. Who wouldn’t want Colonel Sun for a companion? I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you the source of the Colonel’s amazing powers.

So read “The Laughing Sutra”. I also liked Salzman’s next (and entirely entirely different) novel, “The Soloist”. I hope he keeps writing.

So far, I haven’t been able to think of another adult book that worked so well with kids. Any nominations for my new genre? I’m curious.

“The Ginseng Hunter – A Novel” by Jeff Talarigo

A few years ago, I remonstrated with a friend who purchased a health-branded product (herbal tea?) that included ginseng. “It’s an endangered plant! How come everyone wants to take care of endangered birds and ignores endangered plants?” I don’t remember my little rant having any impact.

Why is ginseng “hunted”? It can be farmed, but that is a slow and difficult process. Ginseng is thought to have positive medicinal properties, but it has never been approved as a drug in the United States. (Wikipedia)

Ginseng is featured in the title of this short, griping novel, but its possible endangered status is far from being the focus of the book.

This book is about North Korea and China and the border between them.

The ginseng hunter lives alone, but his memories include his father and uncle who taught him to harvest wild ginseng, and his mother who raised him. He lives in China but carries Korean blood and speaks both languages. He can see the river border between the two countries from his house.

This book takes place in the year 2000. I had to keep reminding myself of this, because so much about it (especially the atmosphere) seems medieval. Famine and oppression in adjacent North Korea are bad and getting worse, and the ginseng hunter begins to encounter starving, desperate refugees – a woman, several men, and a little girl. He gradually realizes that, despite his simple life and relative poverty, he has the power to help or destroy these sufferers.

The outcomes of these encounters vary as the ginseng hunter is drawn unwillingly from his isolation and into what the press now refers to as a “humanitarian crisis”.

The book ends with the planting of a vegetable garden, one larger than is needed by a man who lives alone.

“Tea with the Black Dragon” by R A MacAvoy – an old favorite of mine!

I don’t know when the term “chick lit” was first used. This book, published in 1983, might predate it. I consider it a gem of the genre! Another description would be romantic adventure.

Tea with the Black Dragon is just plain fun, the kind of book you would take along for a train ride or get lost in some rainy day. The heroine is flakey but loveable. Martha Macnamara travels to California at her daughter’s request, knowing that something is wrong but having no idea what it is. She is shocked to be unable to find her daughter at all. Before she can start to look for her, she meets a man who offers to help. Mayland Long is mysterious! He appears to be rich, old, very well educated and eccentric. That’s eccentric as in “not quite human”.

Martha and Mayland face off with dangerous criminals and save Martha’s daughter.

I was afraid, given the publication date, that this book might be unavailable, but, according to Amazon, it has been reprinted several times and they have it in e-format as well as new and used copies. So grab it, and enjoy!