During the Qing dynasty, commercial centers in Jiangnan and the court in Beijing demanded high-quality timber to erect palaces, build ships, and construct houses. But this timber could only be supplied by a limited number of forests. These were located in the Yangzi highlands, Jiangxi, and, eventually, Hunan and Guizhou. How the Qing Empire cultivated, felled, and marketed this timber is the guiding question of Meng Zhang's Timber and Forestry in Qing China. In pursuing this question, Zhang provides an authoritative account of the evolution of China's late imperial timber industry, as well as a fascinating and important addition to our understanding of late imperial business, environment, and society.

Zhang's thesis is simple yet elegant: after an abortive attempt to harvest timber resources directly (as the Ming dynasty had done), the Qing state left timber production and distribution to the market. The result was, “an interregional trade structure [that]...

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