This article reflects upon a visit to the Yellow Mountains (Huangshan) National Park, Anhui, China, a World Heritage site with millions of visitors each year. Visitors are guided through the same paths, where a series of prearranged sensations play on Chinese cultural themes framed in nature. The set routes and restricted atmosphere create a very different experience when compared to national parks elsewhere. Economic exploitation seems to have taken the upper hand to conservation. The article will expand on these immediate experiences taking into account the background of the park and historical uses of the mountains and examine the processes that have shaped the park’s present condition. The article will argue that coexisting approaches to nature are inherent in the history and culture of any complex society, including China, and point to their historical and present balance as well as to internal drivers of change as a pertinent focus of attention. When a utilitarian approach to nature is consistently enforced by state power, both explicitly in policy and implicitly in the form of religious intolerance and persecution, common modalities and balancing of perspectives in our relation to nature are distorted. Inevitably, conservation struggles reflect broader contentions in society, where moral and spiritual values are crucial to positive change.
This article critically examines claims that “local community” and “local/traditional knowledge” are vital contributions to safeguarding socio-economic stability and securing sustainable resource uses in times of stress. The empirical focus is on Central Vietnam, but the argument is relevant in a broader context. The article specifically questions approaches to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation that see “local community knowledge” as a vital means to achieving resilience in socio-ecological systems. We argue that rural villages in Central Vietnam are characterised by highly dynamic local actors who eagerly exploit new income opportunities arising both from internal and external sources. Although a wide range of knowledge is available about how to cope with adverse climate and environmental conditions, this knowledge is hardly “resilience” and “equilibrium” oriented. Rather, it is found to be anthropocentric, externally oriented, sometimes opportunistic, and ultimately oriented towards an urban lifestyle—traits that are strongly rewarded by the Vietnamese state. We conclude that, at present, local aspirations may not necessarily be part of the solution, but may form part of a social and political complex that exacerbates risk, particularly for weaker population segments. Instead, new and non-state actors should play a larger role.
Despite years of international criticism and domestic policy making, China still plays a key role in illegal wildlife trafficking. Although the country has begun a transition from the mindless exploitation of nature towards an envisioned Ecological Civilisation, basic tenets in traditional medicine and popular cosmology continue to have highly adverse ecological consequences, both at home and abroad. Evaluating recent trends in international wildlife trade, Chinese policy making, and popular cosmology in China, this article aims to throw light on why wildlife substances continue to play such important role in the modern society, as well as to reflect on the preconditions for broader value change. The article goes on to argue that in order to get a better understanding on how nature and wildlife are viewed in a Chinese context, one is compelled to reflect not only on the impact of popular cosmology but also of authoritarian governance on conservation.
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