Typhoons, Seasonality, and the Hydrological Cycle in Southern Chinese History
Clark L. Alejandrino, Trinity College

Typhoons are studied as terrestrial actors in human history because of their devastating impact on land-loving societies. Apart from noticing these storms’ impact on shipping, we rarely note how typhoons are maritime or oceanic entities that are part of a larger hydrological cycle. In my presentation, I will look at how the hydrological cycles that produced typhoons created an awareness of a “typhoon season” in coastal China and how this understanding of typhoon seasonality changed over time and how this understanding was always tied to the ocean.

Though I will briefly survey pre-twentieth century Chinese musings about the relationship between typhoons, the oceans, and the summer months, I will focus particularly on how the modern meteorology of typhoons shaped the mass mobilization efforts of Mao’s China along the littoral. Fighting typhoons in Mao’s China involved the creation of annual and seasonal leadership structures, programs, and policies that reflected the hydrological cycle of typhoons. This paper will also attempt to explore what it means to think in terms of seasons in Chinese history.

The Conquest of Vertical Space
Sunil Amrith, Yale University

Since the early 2000s, the “spatial turn” in Asian studies has given us a rich vein of work on transregional connections. The focus on inter-Asian connections has shown us how circulations of people and ideas transcended—even as they were constitutive of—the boundaries of empires and nations. Until recently, however, the physical environment has played little role in this body of work; if anything, it has been deliberately ignored, the better to overcome an older, discredited “environmental determinism.”

This workshop’s focus on the hydrological cycle is an invitation to think again. My (unwritten) reflection will focus on a key phenomenon in modern Asian history—the conquest of the “vertical” space of water. This is both a material history—a history of dam building and hydrological engineering on a truly enormous scale—and an intellectual history: a history of new ways of mapping, and visualizing, vertical space. In the context of accelerating climate change, these attempts to conquer vertical space have become a source of cascading new risks.

Wind-Water-Carbon Commons: Watershed Sacred Forests and Village Polities in Monsoon Asia
Chris Coggins, Bard College at Simon’s Rock

Climatologist Tetsuzo Yasunari (2018) refers to the assemblage of biomes, habitats, and species extending from the tropical rainforests of Nusantara to the snow-capped Tian Shan as the “Asian Green Belt,” highlighting its essential role in the “land-atmosphere-ocean system” of the Asian Monsoon. This paperless paper describes the history and current status of community sacred forests associated with hunter-gatherers, swidden cultivators, and sedentary farmers who have claimed spaces within watersheds of higher-order streams in ten countries in South, East, and Southeast Asia. Across each of these modes of resource use—and enduring at the margins of the state in various forms through diverse pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial world orders—sacred trees and woodlands have long formed a critical connective tissue that links and protects soils, water sources, microclimates, croplands, humans, and their non-human cohabitants within a protective cosmological order of fierce local tutelary deities, spirits, and other supernatural forces. As a network of innumerable beings, even small forest patches have long mediated the spectral hydrological processes that yield wind, humidity, condensation (fog, mist, haze, clouds), and precipitation. Contrary to common understandings of the “sacred,” these woodlands are not separate from a “profane” world, but vital for gathering and storing water and carbon resources; safeguarding and stabilizing topsoil, slopes, and beneficial organisms; moderating ambient temperatures; and sustaining food production systems. With regard to community watershed managers worldwide, this critique of political ecology, places sacred groves and the watery (and symbol-wielding) beings that sustain them, within a narrative of collective regard for the wind-water-carbon cycles that connect the oikos of economy and ecology with the polis of a common social being, embraced within a cosmos, or world order bearing transcendent meaning and value.

Humid Cultures of the Yangtze Valley
Christopher J. Courtney, Durham University

Most historical studies that touch upon the hydrologic cycle tend to focus upon the human interaction with surface water. Yet people do not just wade in lakes, swim in rivers, or sail on oceans; their bodies are constantly enveloped in atmospheric water, the quantities and constitution of which have had a profound influence over the development of human societies. Variations in atmospheric water content help to determine regional and global climates. Human beings experience this variation as relative humidity, a distinguishing feature of local environments which can have a dramatic effect upon both health and comfort. Heat and humidity influence both quotidian experiences of the environment and also patterns of long-term cultural adaptation.

High relative humidity has had a profound influence upon the cultures of the middle and lower Yangtze basin. Though human communities in this area have thoroughly transformed the hydrosphere through agriculture, engineering, and urbanisation, extremely high levels of atmospheric water betray the fact that this region was once home to one of the greatest wetland systems in the world. Throughout history, the various communities that have made their homes in the Yangtze basin have all been forced to adapt to the daily discomforts of living in these atmospheric wetlands. This has helped to shape everything from agriculture to epidemiology – architecture to clothing. At the same time, human activity has exerted a powerful influence upon atmospheric water content at both a local and global scale. If we are to truly appreciate the relationship between historical societies and the hydrologic cycle, then, we must look beyond the visible water flowing across the surface of the earth, to the water that permeates the air around us.

Decolonizing Rain
Dilip da Cunha, Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

Do we inhabit an earth surface divided between land and water or a ubiquitous wetness between clouds and aquifers? We are born into the latter; but educated into the former—by design.

The earth surface, we suggest, exists by design, not in its manipulation with slopes, edges, and edifices, but in its existence as a geometric device separating ‘above’ from ‘below’. Once posited, this separator becomes a formidable ground to anchor observation and engineer habitation. It is further articulated in a fairweather moment of the hydrologic cycle with a second geometric device: a line separating water from land. Together, surface and line give us the ‘things’, such as land, rivers, roads, trees, buildings, cities that we refer to with words, discipline with empirical knowledge, and relate to one another in a ‘language of landscape’.

The surface and line, today, are in trouble with rising seas, floods, droughts, fires, storm events, species extinction, wars, poverty. These problems are attributed to human action, global capital, and such. We, however, see them as the failure of a design paradigm, the consequence of a multitude of design projects to implement surface and line.

We look at one such design project: India. Before it is a nation, subcontinent, tectonic plate, idea, Bharat, and former colony of Great Britain, it is a surface posited to colonize a ubiquitous wetness called Sindhu. This colonization passes largely unnoticed in a world grounded on a surface, enforced and reinforced by scholars and professionals more than anyone. Our task is to articulate Sindhu as a coherent alternative to the surface. Signs of it are everywhere in resistance to a surface and line, in what we are taught to see as the ‘informal’ and underdeveloped, in practices that hold wetness, and in crises like flood when it comes to the rescue of a surface prone to disaster.

Coasts, Estuaries, the Monsoon and ‘discovering’ the River’s pulse in South Asia
Rohan D’Souza, Kyoto University

Sometime in August of 1867, the then secretary of state for India sent a despatch to the Madras Government calling attention to an unusual communication from the much celebrated irrigation engineer Arthur Cotton (1803-1899). The despatch flagged Cotton’s fears about the probable ‘injury to the coast[al] fisheries’ from the irrigation works that he had constructed on the Southern rivers of India. On 27 March 1868, Surgeon-Major Francis Day (1829–1889), then inspector general of fisheries, was tasked to examine the impact of the dams, barrages and weirs on fisheries in the Madras Presidency, Orissa and Lower Bengal, British Burma, and at the end of 1869 the brief was even extended to the distant Andaman islands.

Francis Day’s report, submitted to the Madras Government in 1873, made for arresting reading. While carefully detailing, just as Cotton had feared, how weirs, under-sluices and dams were indeed hindering fish migration and destroying several fish runs along the eastern coast, his conclusions, more significantly, challenged the reigning civil engineering orthodoxy about rivers. Unlike the irrigators view of the river as sullen volumes in flow, for Francis Day the Eastern rivers were fish habitats that teemed with life and bred aquatic diversity. And at the heart of this newly discovered biological river was the seasonal pulse, the monsoonal downpour that swamped and overwhelmed the distinction between land and river ̶ Dilip da Cunha’s zone of ‘ubiquitous wetness’.

The biological river, it was now suggested, was a critical element of a great circulatory rhythm, a hydrological cycle ̶ the atmospheric ocean that is the Indian monsoon ̶ that pulsed through and turned the region into a highway overlain with a broth of soil, silt, vegetation, sediment, muscle, fin, ova and fish. Our presentation will look at the realization and discovery of the biological river in the writings and adventures of three intrepid colonial officials: the surgeon and naturalist Francis Day (1829-1889); the Scottish Physician Francis Buchanan Hamilton (1762-1829) and the historian and Statistician W.W. Hunter (1840-1900).

Reservoirs Run Riot: New Hydrologies for a New China
Arunabh Ghosh, Harvard University

In 1963, the mathematician Hua Luogeng 华罗庚 wrote an essay in the People’s Daily on the problem of water storage in reservoirs (水库的合理蓄放问题). Hua’s interest in a subject seemingly far-removed from his core competency in theoretical mathematics certainly had something to do with the larger political currents of the times, but it was also motivated by the tremendous change in inland China’s hydroscapes over the preceding decade. During the PRC’s first five-year plan (1953-1957), an estimated 40,000 reservoirs were constructed across the country. The pace and intensity of such construction reportedly increased during the frenetic early years of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962). In this paper, I explore how this construction altered hydrological cycles—evaporation, condensation, precipitation, etc.—at various scales and how a diverse range of actors, such as Hua Luogeng, became engaged in questions over their management. In so doing, I also hope to reflect upon how understanding such water bodies can contribute to wider histories that lie at the intersection of land, water, and the atmosphere.

Mao’s War against Erosion: Water and Soil Conservation and the Hydrologic Cycle on the Loess Plateau
Micah Muscolino, University of California San Diego

Since the 1950s, state-led water and soil conservation efforts on Northwest China’s Loess Plateau, the region that suffers from the world’s highest rates of soil erosion, have contributed to a reduction in the volume of sediment that entered the Yellow River via its tributaries and spilled into the sea. As a result, the alluvial fan at the river’s mouth has taken on a distinctive shape that some scientists see as a geophysical marker of the Anthropocene, the recent slice of the Earth’s history in which human-induced environmental change has ushered in a new geological epoch. Water and soil management campaigns undertaken during the Mao era (1949-1976), the subject of my current project, intervened in the hydrologic cycle by influencing what happened to precipitation after hitting the ground. When rainstorms and heavy showers, which due to the East Asian monsoon are concentrated during the summer months on the Loess Plateau, fall on bare soil they loosen soil particles. Runoff water that does not permeate the soil carries those particles away. Bare loess soils are particularly susceptible to this process. Over time, water erosion washes away fertile topsoil; it also creates the sediment that fills the Yellow River and its tributaries and shortens the lifespan of dams and reservoirs.

Water and soil conservation measures modified these hydrologic processes. Planting of trees and grasses broke the force of raindrops and held soil in place. Terrace construction on inclined land slowed runoff and decreased rates of erosion. Small dams and pools on the upper tributaries of watersheds sought to control runoff and address the problem of too much water at one time of year and not enough during others. Conservation initiatives may have slowed erosion, but the cost of these projects fell on rural people who shouldered the burden of remaking the land. Arduous physical labor devoted to conservation projects intensified pressures on villagers’ work time, endangered their health and wellbeing, and had enduring effects on their bodies. Because the PRC government’s grain procurement system extracted agricultural surpluses from the countryside to support industrialization, moreover, most of the improvements in crop yields that resulted from conservation measures did not accrue to the rural populace. Drawing on extensive archival research and oral history interviews conducted in Gansu Province, my work traces connections among state power, landscape transformation on a dramatic scale, the importance of water and soil for human livelihoods, and the embodied experiences of the rural women and men.

Ocean Boosters
Helen Rozwadowski, University of Connecticut

The McMenamin’s concept of hypersea highlights the existence of the ocean right here among us, outside of ocean basins, on land, and involved with our everyday lives. Today’s frequent references to the “blue economy” recognize the importance, and potential, of ocean-related activities to land-based human societies. In the 1990s, Judith Gradwohl and Michael Weber (The Wealth of Oceans, 1995) noted that US government statistics were not kept in a way that made it possible to see ocean-related economic activity as the significant part of the economy that it is. A 2013 report produced by CT Sea Grant about my home state of Connecticut attempted to aggregate information to reveal the importance of maritime activity to the state’s economy. (Pomeroy, Plesh, and Muawanah, “Valuing the Coast,” CT Sea Grant Report, March 2013). At other times and places than the contemporary United States, the extent and value of ocean-related economic activity has been more apparent than presently appreciated. For example, mid 19th century Americans were, arguably, as conscious of the nation’s maritime expansion and commerce as they were of its continental westward expansion (Rouleau, With Sails Whitening Every Sea, 2014), whereas Americans today retroactively tend to associate US 19th century expansionism with a terrestrial, continental trajectory rather than an oceanic one.

I am in the early stages of a study of efforts in the 1960s and early 1970s to develop what today we might call a “blue economy” in Hawaii. A group of people – I call them “ocean boosters” – imagined the possibility of creating a high tech industrial sector, akin to the aerospace industry, to invent, build, test, and make profitable technologies to industrialize and exploit the ocean’s depths. A handful of visionaries, working with state officials and others, harbored great ambitions for the possibility extracting wealth from the depths, to the benefit of inventors, investors, and the state, among others. These boosters imagined wealth from oceans that would flow easily, thanks to the new technology, to solve the human and terrestrial problems of the day, including overpopulation, poverty, and even inequity between global North and South. Such salvation, had it happened, would represent a new hypersea. The oceans, which fostered life itself, would, it was hoped, once again flow forth to solve terrestrial problems. While the biggest dreams of the 1960s ocean boosters mostly failed to materialize, new efforts are under way today to make deep-sea mining and other industrial uses of the ocean’s depths a reality. That promotors of such endeavors can embrace this a vision without recognizing its profound flaws suggests the need a history of such ambitions and attempts.

The Flood Pulse
James C. Scott, Yale University

This perspective takes the concept of the “flood pulse” rather literally. The flood “pulse” is, as it were, the essential condition for the life of virtually all of the non-human life forms that live in, around, and by the river. It is the force of “connectivity” and periodic refreshment of the habitats that supplies the bio-mass that is, in turn, the base of the web of life that animates the river and its flood plain. Without the flood pulse, the river is, comparatively speaking, biotically dead. When the “pulse” ‘flat-lines’, so also does the river. One of the unfortunate connotations of the terms:” hydrological-cycle” and “flood pulse”, is that they convey a false sense of regularity and equilibrium to the movement of water, (I write this in the midst of Hurricane ‘Henri’!) and overlook the wide variability and unpredictability of water movement over and above some mythical, annual average.
The landscaping of rivers by Homo-sapiens has had, since the beginning, the goal of training, taming, disciplining the river to suit the purposes of one species: US. Until the late Anthropocene these interventions were comparatively modest, and humans had to adapt to and accommodate the movement of the rivers that they could not control. But with the invention of dynamite, large earth-moving machines, chain saws, and reinforced concrete, human attempts to turn rivers, variously, into navigable canals, hydro-electric reservoirs and dams, urban water conduits, massive irrigation canals, and sewage pipes has grown exponentially. The consequences have been devastating for all species for whom the river, and its movement, is their life world: fish, turtles, frogs, molluscs, bi-valves, arthropods, waterfowl, riverine birds, and mammals, not to mention the bacterial substrate upon which this chain of nutrition depends. If time allows, I propose to summon an assembly of these critters and work with them to create a “Field Guide” to the various species of “river assassins”, all of whom are, of course, sub-species of Homo-sapiens.

Historical Sociohydrology: Slow-Fast Dynamics and Emergent Phenomena in the Hydrosocial Cycle
Murugesu Sivapalan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The “natural” hydrologic cycle is driven by the twin forces of differential heating and gravity. Humans modify hydrological flows as part of water management, and human settlement and migration patterns and human decisions in respect of water are in turn shaped by hydrological flows. In these ways hydrological flows shape the organization of society and generate and/or disrupt social relations. Human-induced modifications to landscapes and changes to the hydrological flows are tied to socio-economic and productive forces. The flows and stocks of water in the hydrological cycle and the distribution of human settlement patterns and associated social relations are all thus a result of natural and social forces, and can be deemed emergent patterns arising from their coevolution within the “hydro-social” cycle, and arising from cross-scale and cross-system feedbacks.

Water management actions by humans organize the water resources system into four subsystems: (1) the natural system involving rivers, lakes, and aquifers that are part of the natural hydrological cycle, (2) the infrastructure system, such as canals, reservoirs, wells, and pumping plants (including their operation rules) associated with technology, (3) the socioeconomic system related to water-using and water-related human activities, and (4) the institutional system of administration, legislation, and regulation of water. These subsystems are coupled to each other via numerous positive and negative feedbacks and are all characterized in terms of fast and slow processes.

The natural subsystem will slowly degrade if overused through fast human processes (e.g., water extraction, land use changes) that do not allow for recovery. The infrastructure system, typically, follows a slow evolutionary path linked to innovation through the interplay between technology and society. Technology includes infrastructure development to exploit water resources (e.g., irrigation technology), improved water use efficiency in agriculture, breeding of more water efficient crops, and river training and the construction of levees to protect cities from flooding. However, infrastructure develops in response to accumulated effects of human-water interactions at short time scales, e.g., frequent flooding forces people in urban settings to construct levees to protect themselves, likewise frequent water shortages in agricultural communities force people to build storage reservoirs.

The socioeconomic system, especially in agricultural regions, is often built on the exploitation of nature’s renewable resources (e.g., soil and water) for producing economic outputs. The dynamics of the socioeconomic system is therefore intimately connected to the short-term dynamics of the resource, but in the long term, the accumulation of wealth can contribute to the growth of technology and population increase through natural growth and in-migration, both of which further expand the ability to exploit the natural resources. On the other hand, overexploitation of the natural resources can cause degradation of the resource and, in the long term, lead to permanent depletion of the resource. The institutional (or governance) system represents a range of actors or stakeholders (e.g., state agencies and water experts, private sector and nongovernmental organizations, and citizen groups) who have to make decisions to manage the competition for water between human use (both supply and demand) in the short term and the use by the environment in the long term, to achieve sustainability. As societies grew and learned to manage the competition for water for various human uses and for the environment, they developed policies, legal systems, constitutions and cultures that provided guidance to their decision making. Institutions that do poorly with keeping the collective memory alive (i.e., suffer ‘‘generational amnesia’’) may not be able to account for long-time scale changes. They can lead to unintended consequences, including catastrophic failures, deemed as emergent phenomena, which will be illustrated through the use of historical studies conducted in Australia and China.

Slow Hydrology: Frozen Forms and Flowing Floes
Philip Steinberg, Durham University

This intervention reworks hydrospheric thinking in an Arctic context, where the hydrosphere’s temporalities, its changes of state, its interconnections, and its fusions with other elements and entities (including humans) take on a unique character. On the one hand, the Arctic is a region where the dynamism, differentiation, and interconnections of the hydrosphere are acutely felt as rapid and dramatic cyclical change: by hunters attentive to lead formation in ice floes; by algal communities thriving amidst brine rejection and light refraction from the sea ice above; by local travellers who eagerly anticipate the annual freezing of riverine and oceanic surfaces, and by travellers from outside who just as eagerly anticipate their melting. At the same time, the Arctic is a space where the hydrologic cycle is slow and imperceptible: precipitation (in many areas) is minimal; glaciers move, well, glacially; water itself (when frozen) seems ‘less wet’. These attributes of the Arctic are reflected in narratives of the Arctic (from within and without) that alternately portray the region as static (‘frozen’ in time) and characterised by persistent, dramatic change. In this (non-)paper, these properties will be brought to bear to engage the Arctic as space of contrasting hydrospheric temporalities.

State-Building in Times of Climatic Changes: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Infrastructural Power and Environmental Justice
Harry Verhoeven, Columbia University

Global environmental imaginaries such as “the climate crisis” and “water wars” dominate the discussion on African states and their predicament in the face of global warming and unmet demands for sustainable livelihoods. I argue that the intersecting challenges of water, energy, and food insecurity are providing impetus for the articulation of ambitious state-building projects, in the Nile Basin as elsewhere, that rework regional political geographies and expand “infrastructural power”- the ways in which the state can penetrate society, control its territory, and implement consequential policies. Crucially, this is happening with significant material support and ideational inspiration from Asian partners for whom the merging of political order and centralized water management have long been a priority.

Africa’s most ambitious infrastructural project, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, should thus be understood as intending to alter how the state operates, domestically and internationally; how it is seen by its population; and how citizens relate to each other and to their regional neighbours. To legitimize such material and ideational transformations and reposition itself in international politics, the Ethiopian party-state has embedded the dam in a discourse of “environmental justice”- a rectification of historical and geographical ills to which Ethiopia and its impoverished masses were subjected by imperialist actors. However, domestic critics have adopted their own environmental justice narratives to denounce the failure of Ethiopia’s developmental model and the ways in which hydro-agricultural state-building benefits specific ethnolinguistic constituencies at the expense of the broader population.

Towards An Historical Geography of Human Biological Water
James Wescoat, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

At the bottom of most tables of the world water balance lies a line for “Biological water.” Its static volume — estimated by some at only .0001 percent of the global total — is tiny compared to the great oceans, ice caps, aquifers, and even the less voluminous rivers, lakes and atmosphere. The project that I have in mind for the paperless workshop focuses on the human fraction of this biological water – call it human biological water (HBW). It is tiny compared to water in other states. However, the renewal period of biological water, defined as the time required for water in a given state to be replaced through physiological processes, is rapid. The renewal periods for animals ranges from seconds in micro-organisms to ~50 days in the case of a human being. Rapid cycling of human biological water involves hydrologically significant volumes and fluxes within the world water system. Although often invoked in mantras about water as “life blood,” the circulation of human biological water is rarely examined in detail outside specialized scientific subfields.

Circulatory histories of human biological water are fascinating on at least three spatio-temporal scales: 1) evolutionary; 2) historical geographic; and 3) physiological. At the largest evolutionary scale of millions of years, the progression from marine to amphibious and terrestrial species entailed fascinating adaptations of internal biological water structures and physiologies to dramatically changing hydroclimatic environments. At smaller physiological scale, these transformations have parallels, perhaps, in the embryology and birth of infants, as well as the largely autonomous subconscious aqueous processes of every human organ. A century or two ago, the water science known as “medical hydrology” focused on therapeutic aspects of baths, spas, and mineral waters; it still exists but has been largely eclipsed by “scientific hydrology.” At the very smallest scale studied to date, physical chemists are shedding new light on unique molecular processes of “biological water” on femtosecond time scales (one millionth of a billionth of a second). These molecular and planetary phenomena raise fascinating questions about the limits, and extensions, of history. They invite speculation about the future as well as the rich past of microcosm : macrocosm analogies between body and cosmos that famously included comparisons between the circulation of blood in humans and water on the planet (e.g., Wm Harvey, d. 1657 as discussed in Tuan’s Hydrologic Cycle and the Wisdom of God, 1968).

Of primary interest in my project, however, are the intermediate historical geographic scales of human biological water. They include local inquiry into minimum human needs; household water (in)security; and water-related disease. The latter encompasses waterborne, water-washed, water-based, and water vectors transmission, which would lead us to redefine HBW as the waters that travel with as well as within human persons (see White, Bradley and White, Drawers of Water: Domestic Water Use in East Africa [1972]; expanded in J. Bartram et al., Routledge Handbook of Water and Health [2015]). At a larger regional scale, the historical geography of HBW tracks human migration and long-distance water transport driven by complex processes analogous, perhaps, to the emerging oceanic and climatic paradigms of history (Duara, 2021). In addition to developing these ideas above in more detail, I plan to develop a substantive historical geographic study of HBW probably in Maharashtra, but possibly in Punjab or Kashmir.

Drinking a Hydrologic Cycle from a Bottle
Ling Zhang, Boston College

“The Farmer’s Spring, a little sweet!” If you are a Chinese, you would have surely heard this advertisement on television or radio. If you are a visitor to China, there is a sixty percent chance you will consume this product. In China’s gigantic and competitive water market, the Farmer’s Spring brand occupies the largest share of the bottled-water business. What makes the brand so successful? Its owner, who in 2020 became the richest man in China, would tell you: first, “We don’t produce purified water; we only produce natural mineral water”; and second, “We don’t manufacture water; we are merely the conveyer of the Great Nature.”

What is this water being bottled, sold, and drunk? Where do its mineral contents come from? What is the “Nature” that gives birth not only to millions of bottles of water but also to the brand’s billion-dollar business empire? When you twist open the red cap of the plastic bottle, what exactly is inside for you to consume? Business, investment, advertisement strategies, consumer psychology, China’s post-socialist market economy, the global capitalist economy and its consumerist culture, of course. But there is more. You would also take sips of Cold War politics and energy history; technological development and infrastructure construction; large-scope transformations of China’s geology and ecology; minute exchanges between water, solar power, and aquatic organisms and nonorganisms; and certainly, China’s increasing water shortage and pollution in the broader context of environmental degradation and climate change. You would indeed be drinking an entire hydrologic cycle—or in my conceptualization, a complex geologic and ecological history—from a small plastic bottle.

I approach this research by incorporating microhistorical methodologies, world-systems analysis, assemblage and actor network theories, and material feminist sensibilities. I hope to complicate the concept of the hydrologic cycle by arguing two points. First, a hydrologic cycle is a nature-culture complex and so is both constructed and real. Second, multiple hydrologic cycles coexist, and they are distinct from and yet intersected with one another.