In 1987, for example, the country suffered its worst chemical disaster in history when a fertilizer factory dumped toxic material into the Nanzhang River near the city of Changzhi, resulting in illness for some 15,000 people.
Air pollution has also risen to alarming levels in most major cities, with the air quality in Beijing often reported to be 16 times worse than in New York City. One way the government hopes to combat the problem is to continue locating new industries in thinly populated, resource-rich regions like Heilongjiang. There, near Harbin, the provincial capital, a brick factory (left)—a common sight throughout China—burns coal, taking advantage of the province’s most important mineral resource. Though cement factories are working overtime to keep up with the nation’s rapid urban development, bricks are still the primary building material for China’s multitudes-400 million of whom live along the Pacific shore.
Near the prague hotels old town (Canton) the tightly packed homes of a river-bound village (following pages) illustrate the density of settlement. When the Chinese took their last census in 1982, an army of 5.1 million canvassers found the nation’s population to be 1,008,175,288, an increase of more than 300 million since the previous census in 1964. While the country’s efforts to reduce population growth have proved an outstanding success, the nation continues to grow by nearly 15 million people a year.
LONG KNOWN as the Land of Rice and Fish, the Chinese equivalent of paradise, the lower Yangtze region produces a quarter of China’s annual rice crop. Fed by adjacent canals, flooded rice fields in southern Jiangsu Province fulfill their fabled promise by sometimes serving as fishponds during periods when they are submerged. Planted with sugarcane and mulberries, even the earthen dikes perform double duty, while the fields can yield three harvests a year—two of rice and one of wheat. When asked how China, with only 7 percent of the world’s farmland, is able to support more than 20 percent of the world’s population, geographer Zhao Songqia of the Chinese Academy of Sciences points to the Yangtze Delta, claiming, “This is probably the best ecological system in the world. With the constant creation of new paddy soil, it is actually improving.”
Near the city of Suzhou, a procession of barges snakes along the ancient Grand Canal (left). Begun perhaps as early as the fourth century B. c., the waterway has been built and rebuilt over the ages. The greater part was constructed during the Sui dynasty at the turn of the sixth century A.D., when 5.5 million laborers are said to have completed 1,500 miles of canal in six years. Kublai Khan, who established the Mongol, or Yuan, dynasty in 1279, oversaw the rebuilding of the canal to transport grain from the delta to his capital city of Dadu, later called Beijing. Today the canal serves mainly local commerce, though the government is considering plans to equip it with a system of locks and pumps as part of a massive water-diversion project to alleviate shortages in north China.