'Coal + Ice' Exhibition Opens in Beijing

Yang Junpo, Pingdingshan, Henan Province, China, 1996.

Today's New York Times devotes extensive coverage to Coal + Ice, a new photography exhibition that opened last weekend at the Three Shadows gallery in Beijing. A project of the Asia Society's Center on US-China Relations, Coal + Ice shows images of two indelible features of the modern Chinese landscape — coal mines and Himalayan glaciers — and suggests how the former has contributed to the diminishing of the latter.

Central to the exhibit are the images of David Breashears, a photographer who, through several recent trips to the glaciers, found that they were much smaller than when photographed by George Mallory almost 90 years earlier. The consequences of the melting are dire, not least for the hundreds of millions of people who live downstream from rivers fed by Himalayan ice. 

"For a long time, we assumed that glaciers didn't have much to do with us," said Orville Schell, director of Center on US-China Relations and an overseer of the show. "But as it turns out, they did."

Melting glaciers, though, are only half of the story. Coal + Ice juxtaposes Breashears' images with pictures of China's coal miners, men who toil in some of the world's most dangerous conditions to extract the substance fueling China's economic boom. The environmental consequences of coal mining are great: in addition to causing pollution, the mines are thought to be a major contributor to global climate change.

A filthy coal mine in northern China's Shanxi Province and a pristine glacier in Tibet may appear to have little in common on the surface, yet Coal + Ice shows how together they demonstrate how environmental change is affecting Asia.

Coal + Ice exhibition website

Video: Coal + Ice installation and opening (2 min., 43 sec.)

Related coverage:
Climate Equation: Coal + Ice = ? (New York Times)
On Thinner Ice: Melting Glaciers on the Top of the World (Asia Society video)

Coal + Ice to be Exhibited in Beijing (Caixin Magazine video, in Chinese)

Podcast: What Melting Glaciers Mean for China (with Orville Schell, produced by American Chamber of Commerce)

About the Author

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Matt Schiavenza is the Assistant Director of Content at Asia Society. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, Fortune, and strategy + business among other publications.