Do not expect Wetlands to be an impenetrable academic tome. Quite the opposite. Author Ke Ying has used a relaxed and cheerful literary tone to explain everything we need to know about wetlands, the “kidneys of the world”.

Divided into six sections (Understanding Wetlands; Wetland Ecosystems; Vegetation; Aquatic Kingdom; Wetland Economy and Caring for Wetlands), his book gives a detailed description of the nature, evolution, structure and function of wetlands ecology – and the dangers it faces. In fascinating stories that combine the development of wetlands with humanity’s own history, the young writer transforms wetlands from an abstract ecological concept into a vital spirit. 

We learn, for example, that the first crops to be grown by humans were originally wild plants that sprouted alongside wetlands – a demonstration of the importance of wetlands in environmental protection. The water mallow, which in the ancient Chinese Books of Songs grows in tandem with love, is described as a specialised cleaner of pollution. And wetlands are not just humanity’s “oxygen bar”; they are the last line of defence against desertification and salinisation.
The book covers well the crisis that China’s wetlands are facing, including the danger of eutrophication. This process – which has happened in Taihu Lake and Dian Lake — occurs when excess nutrients knock the wetland ecosystem out of balance. The attempts to use water hyacinths to combat algae in Dian Lake provide a cautionary tale about the consequences of the loss of ecological balance.

Ke Ying once wrote that he had “always dreamed of writing Wetlands. My first awareness of wetlands was emotional.” He is from Zhangye, in the arid north-western province of Gansu. Once a lush wetland and an essential stop on the Silk Road, the area now faces the worst desertification in China. Perhaps this background is why he is able to clarify so elegantly a serious scientific issue.

His book is the first in China to take a literary approach to wetlands, and includes a large number of illustrations that add depth to the words. After absorbing the book and its pictures, perhaps we will realise that there is no time to waste if we are to save our wetlands.

Ke Ying
Gansu Cultural Press, 2008

— By Li Siqi