Micah Muscolino

Professor and Paul G. Pickowicz Endowed Chair in Modern Chinese History

Micah Muscolino received his B.A. from UC Berkeley (1999) and Ph.D. from Harvard University (2006). His research focuses on the environmental history of modern China. In addition to deepening our understanding of the historical roots of China’s current environmental challenges, his approach employs ecological perspectives to generate new insights into social, economic, and military developments in modern China.

His first book, Fishing Wars and Environmental Change in Late Imperial and Modern China (2009), explored the environmental history of China’s most important marine fishery, the Zhoushan Islands, from its nineteenth-century expansion to the exhaustion of its main commercial fish stocks in the 1970s. Examining the private and state interests that shaped struggles for the control of common resources, this study made a pioneering contribution to the field of Chinese environmental history by demonstrating how local, regional, and transnational forces intersected to transform the marine ecosystem.

His second book The Ecology of War in China: Henan Province, the Yellow River, and Beyond, 1938-1950 (2015) engaged with the historiography of war and militarization in modern China and the interdisciplinary scholarship on war and the environment in world history. This study focused on Henan province, a frontline territory that endured massive environmental destruction and human dislocation during World War II. Tracing the history of Henan’s war-induced flood and famine disasters and their aftermath, the book conceptualized the ecology of war in terms of energy flows through and between militaries, societies, and environments. Ultimately, it argued that efforts to procure and exploit nature's energy in various forms shaped military strategy, the fates of refugees, and the trajectory of environmental change.

He is currently researching the history of water and soil conservation in Northwest China’s Loess Plateau region from the 1940s to the present. Drawing on county-level archives and fieldwork conducted in villages in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, this book project focuses on encounters between people and the land as mediated by the state, revealing how specific ecological practices have been formed through complex interactions among local knowledge and priorities, the political and economic imperatives of the Chinese state, gendered constructions of work, and the dynamics of the natural landscape.

Beyond these book projects, he has published numerous articles on China’s place in global environmental history, maritime connections between Mainland China and Taiwan, energy history, and the history of territorial disputes in the South China Sea. As organizer and editor of the “Historical Perspectives on China’s Environment” series for chinadialogue.net, he seeks to heighten the impact of Chinese environmental history by making cutting-edge academic research accessible to journalists, NGOs, and policymakers.

He has been a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ with funding from a Mellon Fellowship for Assistant Professors and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and an invited Visiting Professor at Harvard University. His research has also received fellowships and grants from the British Academy, the Chiang Chiang-kuo Foundation, and the Fulbright Program.

Muscolino taught at St. Mary’s College of California, Georgetown University, and the University of Oxford before coming to UCSD in 2018. In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate courses on the history of modern China and global environmental history, he directs Ph.D. students working on all topics in Chinese history during late Qing, Republican, and PRC periods.


The Ecology of War in China: Henan Province, the Yellow River, and Beyond, 1938-1950. Cambridge University Press, 2015. Chinese translation, Beijing United Publishing Company, forthcoming.

Fishing Wars and Environmental Change in Late Imperial and Modern China. Harvard University Asia Center and Harvard University Press, 2009. Chinese translation, Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 2015.

Journal Articles:

“Woods and Warfare in Korea and the World: A View from China.” The Journal of Asian Studies, May 2018.

“Energy, Ecology, and Enterprise in Liu Hongsheng’s Cement and Coal Briquette Companies, 1920-1937.” Twentieth-Century China, May 2016.

“Past and Present Resource Conflict in the South China Sea: The Case of Reed Bank.” Cross-Currents East Asian History and Culture Review, e-journal September 2013; print November 2013.

“Violence Against People and the Land: Refugees and the Environment in China’s Henan Province, 1938-1945.” Environment and History, May 2011.

“Refugees, Land Reclamation, and Militarized Landscapes in Wartime China: Huanglongshan, Shaanxi, 1937–45.” The Journal of Asian Studies, May 2010.

“Global Dimensions in Modern China’s Environmental History.” World History Connected, March 2009. Chinese translation in Wenxuejie, June 2011.

“The Yellow Croaker War: Fishery Disputes between China and Japan, 1925-1935.” Environmental History, April 2008. Earlier version published as “Sino-Japanese Fishing Disputes, 1924-1932: Environmental Change and Territorial Sovereignty in International Perspective,” in Niu Dayong and William C. Kirby, eds. China’s Interactions with the World: Internationalization, Internalization, and Externalization (Zhengzhou: Henan People’s Publishing House, 2007).

“A Forest of Sails and Masts: Environment and Economy in an Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Fishery.” Twentieth-Century China, November 2005.

Book Chapters:

“Conceptualizing Wartime Flood and Famine in China,” in Simo Laakkonen, Richard Tucker and Timo Vuorisalo, eds. The Long Shadows: Toward a Global Environmental History of the Second World War (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2017).

 “The Energetics of Militarized Landscapes: The Ecology of War in Henan, 1938-1950,” in Ts’ui-jung Liu and James Beattie, eds. Environment, Modernization and Development in East Asia (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).

“Underground at Sea: Fishing, Smuggling, and Alternative Transactions across the Taiwan Strait, 1970s-1990s,” in Wen-hsin Yeh, ed. Mobile Horizons: Dynamics across the Taiwan Straits (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley, 2013).

“Fisheries Build Up the Nation: Maritime Environmental Encounters Between China and Japan,” in Julia Adeney Thomas, Ian Miller, and Brett Walker, eds. Nature’s Horizons: Japan’s Environmental Legacy (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2013).

“Fishing and Whaling,” in Erin Stewart and J.R. McNeill, eds. A Companion to Global Environmental History (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).       

Other articles:

“Overfishing fuels China’s maritime disputes,” October 20, 2016. The Third Pole https://www.thethirdpole.net/2016/10/20/the-most-prized-fish-in-asia-drives-chinese-overfishing/

“Yellow River flood, 1938-47,” September 2015. DisasterHistory.org. http://www.disasterhistory.org/yellow-river-flood-1938-47#more-383

Co-editor, “‘Zhongguo huangjingshi yanjiu’ biji” (Notes on ‘Chinese environmental history research’). Jianghan Luntan (Jianghan forum), May 2014.

“Zhongguo huanjingshi yanjiu de xin qushi” (New directions in Chinese environmental history research). Jianghan Luntan (Jianghan forum), May 2014.

“Agricultural Production: Fishery and Aquaculture since 1800,” in The Encyclopedia of Modern China (Gale-Macmillan Reference, 2009).

Book reviews:

Prasenjit Duara, The Crisis of Global Modernity: Asian Traditions and a Sustainable Future. In Environmental History, April 2017.

Toby Lincoln, Urbanizing China in War and Peace: The Case of Wuxi County. In Pacific Affairs, March 2017.

Diana Lary, China’s Civil War: A Social History, 1945-1949. In The China Journal, January 2017.

Patrick Fuliang Shan, Taming China’s Wilderness: Settlement and the Shaping of the Heilongjiang Frontier. In China Quarterly, March 2015.

Kurkpatrick Dorsey, Whales and Nations: Environmental Diplomacy on the High Seas. In Canadian Journal of History, Spring-Summer 2015.

Robert Marks, China: Its Environment and History. In Environmental History, December 2013.

Judith Shapiro, China’s Environmental Challenges. H-Net, September 2013.

Joseph Morgan Hodge, Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Discourses of Development and the Legacies of British Colonialism. In Itinerario: International Journal on the History of European Expansion and Global Interaction, March 2009.

Peter Boomgaard, ed. A World of Water: Rain, Rivers and Seas in Southeast Asian Histories. In Environmental History, October 2008.

Tomoko Shiroyama, China during the Great Depression: Market, State, and the World Economy, 1929-1937. In Chinese Business History Newsletter, June 2008.

Steven B. Miles, The Sea of Learning: Mobility and Identity in Nineteenth-Century Guangzhou. In The Journal of Asian Studies, May 2008.

Jeyamalar Kathirithamby-Wells, Nature and Nation: Forests and Development in Peninsular Malaysia. H-Net, September 2007.

Max Spoor, Nico Heerink, and Futian Qu, eds. Dragons With Clay Feet? Transition, Sustainable Land Use, and Rural Environment in China and Vietnam. H-Net, August 2007.


  • HIGR   210: History and Historiography of Modern China