Forest History and the Great Divergence:
China, Japan and the West

Osamu Saito

October 2008


This paper surveys changing interrelationships between man and the earth's forest cover over the past several centuries. The focus is on the interplay between population increase, deforestation and afforestation at both ends of Eurasia. By looking at three numerical indicators-percentage forested, per capita forest resources and the population elasticity of deforestation, Japan is compared with Lingnan, south China, and the East Asians with two European countries, England and France. Based on the East-West comparisons and on somewhat more detailed intra-Asian comparisons between China and Japan with respect to market linkages and the role of the state, the paper examines the proposition made by Ken Pomeranz that although both ends of Eurasia were ecologically constrained at the end of the early modern period, East Asia's pressure on forest resources was ‘probably not much worse’ than in the West.

Per the author's request this paper has been withdrawn. The revised paper is published in Journal of Global History, Vol.4, Issue 3 (November 2009), pp.379-404.