Course:CONS370/Projects/Community-based forest management and intercultural communication in a Dai village in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, China

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The purpose of this case study is to focus on the background, current situation, possible future directions of community-based forest in the Xishuangbanna, Yunnan. This article explores the specific mode of operation of community-based forest in the Xishuangbanna by concentrating on the regional context, tenure and administrative arrangement, stakeholders, etc. Additionally, the paper also discusses the unique culture (including water culture, dragon culture). The paper is not only showcase the forest management in the Xishuangbanna, but also provides supports and lessons for the research of forest elsewhere in Asia or other places.

Keywords: Community-based forest management, Dai, intercultural communication, Xishuangbanna

Theme: Community Forestry
Country: China
Province/Prefecture: Yunnan
City: Xishuangbanna

This conservation resource was created by Ruiyu Lin, Yipeng Chen & Yifan Tong.
It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0.


Geographical Location

Xishuangbanna Autonomous Prefecture, located between 21°10′-22°40′ north latitude and 99°55′-101°59′ east longitude, belongs to the tropical humid zone south of the Tropic of Cancer[2]. It is positioned at the southernmost tip of China's Yunnan Province which is a minority autonomous prefecture under the jurisdiction of Yunnan Province[2]. The state covers an area of approximately 19124.5 square kilometres and shares borders with Pu'er in the north-east and north-west, Laos in the south-east and Myanmar in the south-west[3].

Climatic Characteristics

The average yearly temperature in Xishuangbanna ranges from 18-22℃ and the number of sunshine hours is about 1800 to 2100 hours, with an even distribution of the four seasons and little annual difference in temperature[2]. There is a clear distinction between the wet and dry seasons in Xishuangbanna, with annual precipitation ranging from 1193.7-2491.5 mm[2]. Precipitation is generally concentrated in the wet season, which accounts for about 80%[2]. However, the low precipitation with heavy fog and dew raises the humidity in the dry season and compensates to some extent for the lack of precipitation[2].

Natural Resources

Firstly, Xishuangbanna owns rich mineral resources, including rock salt, iron, copper, cobalt, rare earths, lignite, lead, zinc, gold, etc.; among them, salt reserves are the richest, with about 25 billion tonnes[4]. Secondly, Xishuangbanna possesses a great reserve of water resources, of which the amount of surface water can be divided into three main parts: one is the transit water runoff of the main stream of the Lancang River, which totals about 55.52 billion cubic metres; two is the confluence of rivers originating outside the state, which totals about 2.36 billion cubic metres; and three is the surface water generated by rainfall in the state, which totals about 11.92 billion cubic metres[5]. Finally, Xishuangbanna has the best-preserved tropical ecosystem in China, with approximately 1,516,600 hectares of forest across the state, as well as a large number of treasured flora and fauna, such as the Tilapia, Southwest Violet, Green Peacock, Giant Lizard, etc[4].

Historical Background

"Xishuangbanna" is actually a Dai word. "Xishuang" means twelve and "Banna" refers to an administrative unit that provided feudal taxes (directly translated as "twelve thousand rice fields"), which in fact represents twelve administrative regions[6]. The ancient name of Xishuangbanna was Meng, a group of ancient Yue people, who evolved through the dynasties before being officially established as the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in 1955[7].

Dai Nationality

Group Name

The Dai people in China are known as Dai, Dai Na, Dai Ya, Dai Tuan and Dai Duan according to their regions of distribution, while those in the Xishuangbanna region call themselves "Dai"[8]. As early as the 1st century AD, there are already records of the Dai ancestors in Chinese historical texts[8]. In the Tang and Song dynasties, they were called "golden teeth", "black teeth", "silver teeth" and "embroidered feet"; In the Yuan and Ming dynasties, they were still called "golden teeth" and "white clothes"; and since the Qing dynasty they have been called "swinging yi"[8].


In terms of religion, the border Dai generally believe in Southern Theravada Buddhism, which is a form of Hinayana Buddhism, while retaining remnants of the original worship of ghosts and gods[8]. The mainland Dai worship the "dragon god" and "dragon tree", and there are religious professionals, "Bo Meng" and "Shiniang", who perform divination and healing on behalf of people[8].

In terms of language, the Dai have their own national language and belong to the Tai branch of the Dong-Tai language group (Zhuang-Dong language group) of the Sino-Tibetan language family;additionally, the script used by the Dai people is Dai, which is a phonetic script with characters in the Dai language[9].

Tenure arrangements

Co-management of nature reserves

Community co-management of nature reserves has gone through three stages.

  • Closed management (strict management) from 1950s to 1960s
  • Legal management (legal management) from 1970s to 1980s
  • Co-management (community co management) from 1990s to the present[10]

In recent years, the agreement protection projects carried out by many non-governmental organizations in some districts also belong to community co-management at the macro-level. The nature reserve not only respects the indigenous community's history but also takes into account the reality, keeps pace with the times, and constantly innovates the community co-management mechanism, so that the once tense community conflicts are significantly reduced under the effect of the co-management mechanism, and the threat to resources is also significantly reduced[10].

The change of the way of life

Community residents have long relied on the rich natural resources of the reserve and formed a specific way of production and life. Most of the infrastructure construction is also based on local materials, such as wood, bamboo, soil, grass and other materials. In the past, these materials were collected in the surrounding forests, so that villagers could freely go in and out of the forest to carry out production activities and obtain the corresponding means of living. Since the establishment of the nature reserve, the protection policy restricts or forbids villagers to enter the nature reserve to carry out production activities, and some national nature reserves directly prohibit development, which limits the scope of life of the community people and changes the way of life[11].

In order to let the community residents actively participate in the construction of nature reserves, the administration bureau of nature reserves and sub nature reserves should also help the poor communities to solve the livelihood problems, so that the community residents can truly feel the benefits of community construction to their production and life. At the same time, the management bureau of the nature reserve should also pay attention to narrowing the distance between itself and the community residents, such as shangyongzi nature reserve, coordinating the relevant departments of the local government to solve the problem of setting up tap water, improving the water use conditions of the community villages, and signing the 'Resource Co-management agreement' to lay the foundation for the community construction and development[11].

In order to let the community residents actively participate in the biodiversity protection of the nature reserve, the nature reserve management Bureau specially goes deep into the surrounding community villages to teach the community villagers the knowledge about the sustainable utilization of 'rhododendron'[12]. At the same time, the community villagers and the workers of the reserve sign the community co-management agreement with each other. The villagers in the co management area can collect bamboo shoots, auricula, wild vegetables and other plants according to the plan, so as to improve the income level of the villagers. However, villagers must abide by the provisions of the agreement, strictly abide by the laws, regulations and relevant policies of the reserve, and do not enter the reserve to carry out illegal activities such as deforestation, hunting, illegal logging, etc[12].

Administrative arrangements

History of the Establishment

  • On February 17, 1950, the whole of Xishuangbanna was liberated and four counties, namely Che, Fo Hai, Nan Highest and Zhen Yue, were successively established as county people's governments under the Pu'er Prefecture.
  • On 23 January 1953, the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Region was formally established, with its capital at Jinghong.
  • In June 1955, the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Region became the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture.
  • On 30 July 1959, the establishment of Banna was abolished and the five county-level Bannas were combined into Jinghong, Menghai and Mengla counties.
  • In August 1973, with the approval of the State Council, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture came under the direct leadership of the Yunnan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China and the Yunnan Provincial Revolutionary Committee, and from then on, Xishuangbanna Prefecture was separated from Simao District and began to exercise the powers of an autonomous prefecture.
  • On December 22, 1993, the State Council approved the abolition of Jinghong County and the establishment of Jinghong City (on February 12, 1994, the Municipal People's Government was established)[4][13].

Administrative divisions

Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture has a total of three county-level administrative regions, including one county-level city and two counties, namely Jinghong City, Menghai County and Mengla County. There are also the Xishuangbanna Tourism Resort, the Mengla (Maochang) Key Development and Opening-up Pilot Zone (China Laos Maochang-Maochang Economic Cooperation Zone) and the Jinghong Industrial Park[13].

Institutionalize community co-management

In order to institutionalize community co-management, as early as 1997, Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve community co management action plan, community co management charter and responsibilities of leading group members and coordinators were formulated by the reserve and the community, which were implemented in Jinghong and Mengla respectively. In 2002, Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve community co management action plan was formulated, In 2005, the general plan of Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve (2005-2015) was compiled. The master plan of Yunnan Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve (2019-2028) compiled in 2018 has made a more detailed planning and design for community co management, so as to make community co management institutionalized, standardized and normalized[13] [14].

Affected Stakeholders

Relative Power

The local people presents the customary right which is to exploit parts of the forest and to process and sell the resulting forest products; additionally, they have rights to cooperate with outside companies to gain benefits. But, if they want to be involved in collaborative decision-making and forest management, they need to submit their views to the relevant government department[4][15].

Economic Benefits

Local villagers who rely on tourist attractions

With the development of ecological tourism, the villagers of Jinghong City, who used to suffer from frequent "elephant disasters" due to living in the protected area, moved to the vicinity of the Wild Elephant Valley scenic spot. In two years, the villagers have become a model village for relocation and poverty alleviation, relying on working in the scenic spot and running projects such as farm caravans. Besides, through the creation of many eco-tourism scenic spots such as Wild Elephant Valley, Mengyuan Wonderland, and Wangtianshu National Forest Park, the ecological culture of harmony and co-prosperity between man and nature has become the golden signboard of Xishuangbanna. In 2018, the state received 40.434 million domestic and foreign tourists, with an increase of 21.6%. The total tourism revenue was 67.11 billion yuan, with a growth rate of up to 32.2%[16].

Individual household and farmers in tourist villages

By relying on rural ecological and cultural tourism, villagers lead a rich and leisurely life. Tea farmers have doubled the price of tea year after year through the construction of ecological tea gardens, allowing the tea that once belonged only to the Dai people to be sold all over the country. Not only that, the beautiful ecological environment here has become the biggest attraction for tourists. Therefore, the Dai people also build farms, develop accommodations for reception, and sell Dai culture-related jewelry and clothes to tourists. There are even local singers and dancers who make performances to attract tourists to participate in Dai activities. Relying on tourism, a variety of occupations have been enriched and developed, and the more diversified income options that could guarantee the income of Dai villager. For example, all 120 villagers in Man Palm Village have their own business projects, and the average monthly income of each household is over 10,000 yuan, which has made an eco-cultural farm that is known both near and far[17].

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Relative Power and Economic Benefits

Local Governments

The role of the local government is mainly embodied in the development of national protected areas and the coordination of the local tourism economy and cultural development. Government departments are facilitating the development of forestry plantations and other projects by working with local farmers. For example, government agencies have introduced policies to make forestry rights certificates available on a tree-by-tree basis as an incentive for people to use forestry rights as collateral for loans and to trade them through a forestry rights trading platform, which creates a "green bank". Based on these policies, within a few years, Xishuangbanna Autonomous Prefecture became the largest precious timber forest base in China. In addition, government departments also encourage villagers to improve the benefits of material processing, which enables processing projects such as latex products, Pu'er tea, Dai medicine, rubber seeds and rubber wood[18].

Tourism Authorities

The Xishuangbanna tourism authority has attracted a large number of tourists and contributed to the tourism development in the local region and surrounding areas. Tourism practitioners have taken advantage of the beautiful local scenery and the unique cultural characteristics of the Dai people to attract tourists, and the result is successful. After that, an increasing number of tourism villages have been established, and with the promotion from the tourism authority, the local economic income is growing rapidly and the infrastructure is getting better[18][19].

Scientists and Foresters

Xishuangbanna has the only tropical rainforest nature reserve in China, which is a national ecological model area and a national scenic spot. In this place, the forest coverage rate has reached 80.8%. Besides, the flora species accounts for 1/6 of the country and the fauna species accounts for 1/4 of the country. Therefore, more and more scientists are involved in the conservation and research of rare plants and animals. And there are many foresters engaged in the landscape restoration of the reserve and the planting of rubber trees[19][20].

Investment Companies

Xishuangbanna Huakun Biotechnology Co., Ltd. has created a comprehensive utilization industry chain of rubber trees and produced advanced vegetable oil, green feed, high-grade organic fertilizer, etc. This company has successfully built the first natural rubber industry innovation demonstration park in China. Subsequently, under the influence of "ecological investment", a number of large and well-known enterprises settled in Xishuangbanna and gradually formed ecological economic industrial clusters based on six ecological industries, including characteristic biology, tourism and culture, processing and manufacturing, health and wellness, information and modern services, and clean energy. Therefore, the eco-economic industry groups are gradually forming, which leads to a rapid increase in the local economy. In 2018, the overall GDP of the state was nearly 41.8 billion yuan, an increase of 8.1% over the previous year[18][20].

Interested Stakeholder Relevent Target Power and Profit Level
Local Governments Provide related policy and economic support and work towards the formulation and introduction of better development strategies Medium level of interest

High level of power

Tourism Authorities Promote and increase the development and benefits of the regional tourism industry Medium level of interest

High level of power

Scientists and Foresters Scientific research and conservation of forest resources Low level of interest

Low level of power

Investment Companies Participate in the investment, management and development of the project and earn substantial profits High level of interest

Low level of power


Forest Resources Management

  • The Dai villages form a community-based management class by means of self-election. The study and interviews revealed that although the Dai villages are primary groups, they are well-organized and exhibit an organizational pattern that is completely different from that of other ethnic groups, and this unique pattern has a significant impact on the formation of the social psychology and behavior of the Dai people[21]. These villages, in turn, play a guiding and coordinating role in the subsequent management of the forest.
  • In fact, the Dai villages have unique traditional forest management mechanisms. These may include sacred and burial groves (The local people believe that the sacred mountain is the place where the god of the fortress resides and must therefore be treated with respect and never cut, hunt, clear, gather or graze in its forests. It is forbidden to cultivate or cut down the forest and it is considered unlucky to use the trees for firewood or building materials. Villagers usually enter the forest only for the burial of the deceased, but do not dare to enter during the day.), water groves (Usually a water source forest is kept on the slope behind a Dai village or in a ravine, where logging or polluting activities at the head of the water source are forbidden.) etc[22].
  • In recent years, however, there have been signs of forest decline. In general, the development of the market economy, the intrusion of mainstream culture and political factors are the three main reasons for the decline in the management of traditional Dai forest resources[22]. Traditional forest resources management can be protected and restored in three ways: Firstly, through education on traditional Dai culture in Dai village schools, especially on the management and protection of forest traditions. The second is to closely integrate traditional Dai forest management with nature conservation education in Dai villages, so that villagers are aware of the role of these traditions in protecting the resources and environment around them. Thirdly, on the basis of education and propaganda, some of the larger typical Dai villages are being restored through the formulation of relevant village rules and regulations. After a certain period of restoration, the ecological and social benefits achieved in the demonstration villages will be disseminated to other Dai villages, and the restoration of traditional forest resources management will be further extended to more Dai villages.

Intercultural Communication

Water Culture

As a social and cultural phenomenon, Dai water culture reflects the synthesis of the relationship between water and nature, economy, society and politics, etc. It is a culture created by the Dai people through their cognition and adaptation of the natural environment in their long-term production and living practices. The water culture of the Dai people can be found in their architecture, living practices and agricultural irrigation. The Dai villages in Xishuangbanna's dam area are either located in the mountains or near the water, and their 'dry-pen' buildings (also known as 'bamboo buildings' or 'wooden buildings') are mainly located in areas with a humid climate and abundant rainfall, which have the advantages of drainage and ventilation, moisture and insect protection, coolness and animal protection, and are also compatible with the local natural and climatic environment[23]. In terms of living customs, the Dai people are accustomed to fetching water from wells; both men and women practice water and bathe at the river after working every day; rice is the staple food and goat meat is not eaten; canoes are used for transporting people and arks are used for carrying goods; water is splashed on the Dai New Year, etc[23]. Additionally, the Dai people have accumulated valuable ecological techniques for water irrigation in the practice of rice production, forming an ecological culture of rice cultivation that integrates paddy field maintenance, rice cultivation and water source protection. For example, when the water level in the riverbed is high, water is pumped from the lower parts of the riverbed to the higher fields by means of bamboo carts; in paddy irrigation, if the water source in the main watercourse is the same, the Dai water diverters use wooden conical dividers to distribute water to the fields of each household[23].

Dragon Culture

The dragon is a symbol of the Chinese nation, with a deep historical and cultural heritage and, a long-standing cultural tradition; and the dragon culture has permeated the ancient civilisation created by the Chinese people over the centuries. The phenomenon of dragon culture in the Dai settlements can be seen in the culture of place names and legends about dragons, architectural sculptures about dragons and traditional customs about dragons[24]. For example, the Dragon Festival in Menglong Township, Xishuangbanna, is a traditional custom unique to the local Dai people. The festival is usually held before the Chinese New Year, when the weather is good, the crops are abundant and people are happy, and the reason for the festival is that the people worship the dragon god and thank him for bringing them happiness. The ceremony consists of choosing a date, chanting prayers, offering gifts, sacrificing, tying the dragon palace, beating gongs and drums, carrying the dragon palace and sending the dragon god away[24].

Conflict Case

Conflicts in this category are evident in the introduction of the rubber industry, mainly showing in two aspects.

  • Increasing confrontation between people and land. Improvements in rubber cultivation techniques and the development of cold-resistant rubber plantations have led to higher yields and an increase in the area under cultivation. This has led to a large amount of virgin forest being cut down and some unused land being converted into rubber woodland, which has led to a confrontation between man and land in order to expand rubber cultivation[25].
  • Increasing confrontation between companies. Under the rapid development of the commodity economy, enterprises competed for the market by adopting a leasing system for the rubber fields of local people, speeding up the development and use of the land, choosing rubber and wood varieties and cold-resistant and high-yielding varieties, which greatly promoted the quantity of rubber production, but the problem of falling rubber prices due to the saturation of the market with overproduction made enterprises adopt different sales policies to occupy a place in the market, making the social confrontation between local enterprises and enterprises much stronger[25].



People can elect suitable village managers and community leadership groups through self-selection; and they are involved in the development and application of community management policies through active participation and cooperation with these groups. In addition, local people will be able to access the updated economic policies, the need for forest conservation and some additional information through external consultation and presentations by government departments.


The establishment of a community management hierarchy can effectively help residents to resolve the difficulties they encounter and to seek help from the outside world through reasonable channels. At the same time, the community management also plays a role in controlling the rational export of resources and cultural transmission.

Local Government

The most significant effect of local government is communicating with the community to safeguard its basic interests. Additionally, the government sector also plays a role in mediating conflicts and providing preferential policies.

Power Analysis

High importance but low influence High importance and high influence
Local Residents

Farmers (Coffee[26] & Rubber[25]& Botanical Herbs[3])

Local Governments

Tourism Authories

Coffee & Tea & Botanical Herbs Companies[3][26][25]

Tourism Companies

Investment Companies

Low importance and low influence Low importance but high influence



Central Government


Environmental NGOs


This case study has analyzed that the serious destruction of tropical rainforest is due to the unreasonable use of natural resources, whose key issue is management. Therefore, it is necessary to strengthen community co-management, not only to enhance the public's awareness of the importance of tropical rainforest protection, but also to assign the relevant personnel and improve the scope of rainforest management.

And another aspect of why this case study demonstrates the research is that it is very important to establish the Management Committee of Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve. In order to effectively protect the resources of nature reserves and develop indigenous community’s economy, and find a balance between protection and development, the local government should not only strengthen the protection of biodiversity in nature reserves, but also promote the development of community economy.

Throughout, this case study recommends that the natural reserve in Xishuangbanna should pay enough attention to community participation, not only regard local community residents as tourism resources, but also put them in a leading position, develop good cooperative relationship with community residents, and strive for common development.  In the nature reserve, the management should correctly guide the indigenous people to make rational use of natural resources, change the traditional way of production and life, make the sustainable use of natural resources, and reduce the dependence of the community indigenous people on natural resources.


In the course of our research, we endeavoured to find the most updated research data or scientific advice, but unfortunately we were only able to find relatively recent scientific literature or government information. Therefore, some of the above data may not apply to Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture today. In addition, our search for information on Dai community-based forest management was limited, so the account is not comprehensive.


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