From reports by Chinese scientists, backed by a personal inspection, U. of Manitoba geographer Smil contends that China's environment is in a parlous state--the combined result of chronic neglect and modern devastation (caused largely by Maoist ""grain first"" policies); and only in post-Mao times has a new, environmental-consciousness emerged. Some problems Smil cites: deforestation (due to mismanagement, illegal cutting, clearing for cultivation and pasture, and forest fires); the erosion of loess landscapes (leading to silted rivers and reservoirs, floods, useless dams, and lost irrigation potential); the infilling of lakes for croplands (the 1978 inland fish catch was half that of 1954); urbanization; soft degradation; water and air pollution (coal provides 70 percent of China's energy); and wildlife extinction. Since 1978, the Chinese seem to have recognized the need for remedial action--especially as regards the 865 million poor, malnourished, fuel-starved rural peasants. (Strategies include reforestation and agroforestry, small coal mines and hydrostations, and family biogas units and wood-lots.) China's cities, by contrast, are comparable to the highly industrialized, polluted hubs of 19th-century Europe and America. Thus, Smil sees China's problems as depressingly large and numerous--and complicated by social factors such as black marketeering, unwieldy bureaucracies, and the pervasive state ideology. Still, improvements are in prospect: environmentally concerned scientists are gaining the support of policy-makers; China's population is slowly coming under control; agricultural strategies are changing to suit long-term conservation needs. Another of the annals of disenchantment--but, in its own line, scholarly and lucid.