Course:CONS370/Projects/Fengshui forests in China: community-based management and current challenges faced by indigenous local communities

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Theme: Community Forestry
Country: China

This conservation resource was created by Allen Li, Corrine Jefferson, Jason Zhu.

This review paper attempts to provide insight on the recurring topic of fengshui forest. Namely, the community-based management of fengshui forests in China. Key issues and challenges involved with the community-based management of fengshui forests for local Indigenous groups in China are identified. And the related law, policy, and process for these issues are explained by evaluating and assessing the involvement of different stakeholders. The development of the management of fengshui forests in China and the management structure are evaluated, considering stakeholders involved in the management of fengshui forests. Future prospects and recommendations for the management of fengshui forests are considered under the context of the current challenges and issues around this topic.

Key Words: Fengshui Forest, China, Community-based Management, forest management, Indigenous Communities, Forest Law

Introduction

Fengshui Forest

In China, literally feng shui means "wind" and "water".[1] The term "Feng Shui" describes a set of standards which Chinese people use to evaluate the environment. It is widespread in southern China and has existed for more than 2200 years.[2] Fnegshui is used to “optimize locations and site conditions of houses, temples, tombs, and settlements in order to harmonize the human realm with the natural and supernatural forces'.[3] This tradition has been passed on for many centuries. And today, there are still many people that view Feng shui as a valuable way of assessing the environment.[4] The custom of Feng Shui can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty (1700-1100 BC) and Zhou Dynasty (1066-256 BC). Feng Shui has been widely used since the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). Fengshui forests in temples are common throughout China, and Buddhist temples are surrounded by a sacred forest. The "feng shui" forest land and water-saving forest land near the village are collectively managed.[1] Fengshui forest is a critical component of the culture and landscape ecology. It is a landscape management strategies focused on topographic features based on traditional ecological knowledge and has been practiced for centuries Involved with spiritual beliefs.[5] Feng Shui woods are the area in which, under the criteria of Feng shui, symbolizes fortune and prosperity.[4] Fengshui forests are typically small patches of forest planted around the village of minorities.[2] The Indigenous people laid out the Feng Shui forests since they settled in the area. And they have been living with the Feng Shui forest for a very long period of time. The Feng Shui forest can provide many functions, both for the Indigenous people and the environment. The Feng Shui woods is what the Indigenous people view as "home". And the existence of the wood itself is sacred for the Indigenous people.[4]

Function of Fengshui forest

The placement of fengshui forest is important, a wrong placement may increase the hazard of flooding, drought, soil erosion, crop failure, disease, and resource shortages. One study found that biodiversity is higher in fengshui forests than nearby secondary successional forests. It helps to balance positive and negative qi (air) and bring good fortune.[5] Roles of fengshui forest includes: Maintain forest sustainability, Prevent soil erosion, Provide resources for surrounding villagers.[2]

Functions and benefits of Fengshui forest that are recognized today include: Increase carbon storage capacity and expand natural carbon sinks; Protect and restore biological diversity across China’s tropical and subtropical zones; Maintain community watersheds and livelihoods; Bring prosperity, wellbeing, and good fortune to the communities that protect them; Protect wildlife and culturally important medicinal species; Reduce climate change; Prevent environmental degradation; Reduce flooding and soil erosion; Shelter the village and the crops from strong winds; Modifications to microclimates; Reduce air pollution.[5]

Importance of Fengshui forest

Fengshui forest is needed to be protected since: The Fengshui forest coexisting with rural communities fully illustrates the harmony between man and the natural environment. Beliefs that the forest will bring good luck, so the first settlers chose to settle in the forest area. Building a village near Fengshui Forest is of great religious and pragmatic significance, so it needs to be protected. Create valuable habitats to support the diversity of wildlife.[6]

Current Management Status

China is considered as a “forest poor” country, so it is important to preserve existing mature & late-successional forests.Fengshui forest lacks official state recognition and conservation and it is found that some forests are illegally sold to private developers for construction of industrial parks and apartment complexes.[3] In 1927, fengshui is abandoned as superstition by Mao because he believes fengshui is a major structural barrier to modern progress. Before the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, forest lands were mostly owned by individual households. It is only after the establishment, the ownership changed from individually owned to state owned and community owned. It was after the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) that fengshui forests were used again. It is designated to be used as a collective land.[7] The tenure arrangements for the area extends way back into history, but it can be generalized into three phases of development. The first phase is before the People's Republic of China was established. In this period of time, the emperor holds the legal rights to all land in China. Therefore, ownership was not an issue since no one owned land other than royalty. The second phase is from the beginning of the establishment of the People's Republic of China. Under the influence of communism, land ownership shifted towards the state. And towards the end of this phase, the state has full control over land ownership. The third phase is from 1979 until today. Where governmental reform changed policies on property rights. Property rights were recognized by the government, and the forest around Wuyi mountain were auctioned by the state. This system is still effective today, where the government continues to auction land.[8] There have been 3 types of forest tenures in Guizhou since the 1980s. The forest tenures include state forests, collective forests, and household forests. For state forests, the ownership and use rights are owned by the central, provincial, prefectural government. For collective forests, the ownership and use rights are owned by communities and it operates based on mutual agreements. For household forests, the land remains as a collective property but the individual has the ownership and rights to use the forest products on the land.[2]

Overview of Management challenges

Over the years, human activities have caused devastating damage to our forest.[6] The indigenous customs of forestry and agriculture are dynamic and evolve with changes in environmental, social, economic and political conditions. However, in the face of rapid social and economic development, indigenous knowledge is becoming vulnerable to external forces; in fact, it has been lost in many parts of the world. Some of the remaining knowledge is only used by the older generation and will not be passed on to the younger generation. The old traditional knowledge is not attractive to the new generation. This loss of knowledge represents the loss of part of biodiversity. Indigenous knowledge must be recorded and a way to maintain and innovate knowledge must be found.[9] In conclusion, traditional knowledge and practices are rapidly disappearing in China, poverty and population loss[10] are the two main challenges.

Issue 1: Community-based management of Fengshui Forests

Key Challenges In Community-Based Forest Management of Fengshui Forests

The Role of Local Indigenous Communities and Authorities: Power Dynamics

The responsibility for management of fengshui forests in China can be placed between the local indigenous communities and authorities of China. Which can be classified as community-based forest management or co-management. Although the state holds the power of provision and guidance of forest management, in special cases for local Indigenous communities, they will be granted autonomy for forest management to some extent[11]. In general, a norm is proposed by the state, in which the local authorities will further develop statutes and regulations to meet the strategic management objective[11]. In the case of fengshui forests, the Indigenous local community is directly involved in the stage of proposing the specific statutes and regulations for their local forest management[12].

However, conflict of interest is inevitable when multiple interest groups or stakeholders are involved in an issue. Various studies of Community-based management of forest in China showed that uneven distribution of benefits within the local community would often result from this management regime[13]. And this structure of management inherently has a complicated political structure and relationship between the different interest groups or stakeholders. Therefore, an important challenge for community-based forest management is to manage the relationship and interaction between local indigenous groups and the authorities. In order for an efficient management regime to be successful in fengshui forests, rules and regulations need to be developed in both the state and local level. This will ensure that fengshui forest not only provides benefit for the local indigenous groups, but also aligns with the objectives of the authorities. The status quo of the community-based forest management is only well balanced for the power dynamics between authorities and local communities for some of the fengshui forests[13]. So in order to develop a systematic approach that can be applied universally, changes in legislation and statutes will be required.

The Balance Between Commercial Forest Management and Ecological Forest Management

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park - First National Forest Park in China[14]

Commercial forest management aims to produce the highest economic output possible within a forest. And many studies have shown that commercial forest management under the community-based management of fengshui forests are successful[13]. By managing the fengshui forests efficiently, local Indigenous groups demonstrated an increase in mean family income[13]. However, economic value is not and should not be the primary objective of community-based management. The community-based management aims to create a sustainable management regime that ensures the local Indigenous groups benefit both from an economic perspective and an ecological perspective. Therefore, the ecological forest management part of the community-based management also plays an important role for the local people. Under the community-based management framework, local natural reserves are delineated and outlined by local authorities. The authorities will take into account the input from local indigenous groups to protect their rights and interests in the fengshui forest. Under this management framework, improvements in forest conservation could be seen as a result[13].

Although community-based management demonstrated promising results both from the commercial perspective and ecological perspective, the improvements are not very significant. In order to amplify the results from community-based forest management, a more intensive approach needs to be taken, replacing the current approach. There are a variety of trials for improved management regimes called pilot demonstrations areas for forests in China, not limiting to fengshui forests[13]. And the most favourable approach would be an integrated management approach. In which both the economic and ecological objectives are fulfilled for both the objectives of local people and the authorities[13]. The essence of this approach is to provide incentives for conservation in many different forms, such as carbon credits and payment for ecosystem services[15]. This approach will allow the local groups to benefit economically from the incentives provided, and establish an ecologically sustainable forest simultaneously.

Related Law, Policy, and Process

State Laws, Statutes, Rules, Regulations, and Norms

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)

At the state level, the central government of China recognizes a number of autonomous regions in China[11]. And a great number of fengshui forests are under the management of autonomous regions in China. According the the Forest Law proposed by the central government, the autonomous regions managed by Indigenous groups have decision making power in provision and management of its local forests[11]. They can establish regulations under the norm provided by the central government to manage the development, distribution of forest resources, forest funds, and ecological conservation of the local forests[11]. They are also required to delineate protected areas or natural reserves under certain criteria including forest ecosystem evaluation, species diversity, and geographical considerations[11]. So it is evident that the state delegated a great portion of power for decision-making around the ecological management of local forests. However, the autonomy of the autonomous regions does not extend to commercial management of the forests. In China, all commercial harvesting needs to be authorized by authorities[11].

And in recent years, the central government is developing a forest certification system in China[16]. The China Forest Certification Working Group is establishing a standard for the forest sector in China. The forest certification system will directly guide the operation of the commercial forest management of fengshui forests[16]. And the community-based management of these forests is required to meet the standards established by the forest certification system[16].

Local Statutes and Regulations

At the local level of management, and namely, the autonomous regions have special considerations from the state government[11]. At this level of management, the autonomous regions can integrate local inputs and characteristics develop special regulations unique to their regions in addition to the state laws or make changes to the state forest laws in special circumstances[11]. At the practical level of management, often these statutes and regulations are not communicated properly among the local people[15]. Which is the major concern that is being addressed by the central government concerning forest management.

Issue 2: Deforestation & Habitat loss

Overview and Consequence of Deforestation

Deforestation and habitat loss in fengshui forests is one of the main issues the Chinese minorities are currently facing. Through research, it is found that the villagers of Chinese minorities are dependent on the resources and protection provided by fengshui forests. The removal of such forests can disrupt the life of the minorities both spiritually and physically.

Forest and woodland cover and national‐level nature reserves in mainland China in 2000 and the loss of this cover in ten years.

Fengshui forests are defined as small patches of forest planted around the villages of minorities[2]. The physical functions of fengshui forests include protecting the village from environmental hazards such as strong winds, soil erosion, crop failure, drought, and flooding. Fengshui forests help improve the circulation of surface and ground water, providing protection to nearby watersheds. Other functions of fengshui forests include wildlife protection, environmental degradation prevention, carbon storage capacity improvement, air quality improvement, and medicinal species protection. Fengshui forests can also provide resources to its nearby villagers.

Fengshui forests are typically located behind and upslope of villages[7]. The location of the forest has a strong connection to the spiritual belief of Chinese minorities. They believe that if a fengshui forest is located above and behind the village, the forest acts as a “shanzhu”, protecting the village from evil forces in the air. Deforestation or removal of fengshui forests can interrupt the energy balance of yin and yang and bring bad luck to the villages. Villages of minorities believe that fengshui forests are a form of ecological vitalism that connects the living and nonliving elements of the landscape[7]. It can block the evil and push bad away from the village. These evil spirits include “shāfēng” and “shashui”, meaning the destruction caused by the strong winds and high overland flow of water[7]. Most Chinese minorities believe that it is a sin to remove a single tree in fengshui forests as it will anger the spirits inside. Once the spirits are angry, the villagers think that the forests will stop protecting them and no longer provide wealth, health, and longevity. For instance, people in Hewu village believe that the trees in the forests have magical powers of regeneration and removing one can cause illness in humans. People in the villages of Meihuashan believe that the traditional punishment for tree cutting is the death of a full-grown pig[7].

Overall, fengshui forests have a significant impact on the livelihood of Chinese minorities. Deforestation of any amount will bring negative consequences to the villagers, either physically or spiritually. China is considered a “forest poor” country, so it is important to preserve existing mature and late-successional forests[7]. From research, it is found that fengshui forest lacks official state recognition and conservation. There are many private companies and developers that are secretly removing fengshui forests and that have caused habitat loss for many wildlife, and shortage of recourses for local villagers. Fengshui forests are an important part of the Han and non-Han cultures in southern and southwestern China. Many people living there are dependent on the resources they harvest within the forest. Aside from providing the villagers a peaceful environment with living and non-living, fengshui forests protect the village from wind and erosion, offer shade for field labor, and provide the villagers with food and resources[7].

Law/policy/process

Currently, fengshui forests are fully regulated and preserved by the villages of minorities. Fengshui forests are not reflected in any legislative or policy documents[2]. Thus, they receive no protection from governments, special organizations or institutions. “Cunguimingyue” is the regulation used by the villages of minorities to maintain fengshui forests. It is a list of local laws and regulations set by the villages of minorities. “Cunguimingyue” is used for self-governance of forest activities and is used to protect fengshui forests. It could include regulations that are orally passed on from generation to generation[2]. Typically, the regulation and local laws are supervised by “zhailao”, a traditional community leader that represents the village. Normally, “zhailao” is the person who has vast knowledge and experience in settling rural affairs within the village. “Zhailao” is chosen by the villagers and he/she has a strong voice in fengshui forest management decisions.

Due to the rapid development of urbanization, the rising demand of timber has caused an increase in deforestation. Many fengshui forests are illegally logged to make industrial parks and apartment complexes[7]. Since the governments do not recognize the importance of fengshui forests, the existence of minority villages is increasingly threatened as the residents are dependent on the resources. Some Indigenous and traditional knowledge is starting to disappear because the young people are moving to the cities where there are more resources and job opportunities. In Longyan, many villages don’t have any legislation or direct national government documents to state their ownership of the forests. Thus, if any state project conflicts with the existence of fengshui forests, the villagers will not have any advantage in claiming the use of property[17].

After the Great Leap Forward from 1958 – 1961, the accelerated development of Chinese industrialization resulted in a failure to manage forests sustainably[2]. Twenty-four percent of China's total forested area was lost due to deforestation. Environmentalists are keen to protect fengshui forests for ecological and hydrological purposes. To determine the significance and value of fengshui forests, field studies are established in three different provinces in China. The first field study, located in Hunan, focuses their research on Huolongshan fengshui forests[7]. Research has found that the fengshui forests can ensure the village a year-round supply of ground and surface water and can protect the watersheds used for crop irrigation and everyday use. The removal of forests may pollute local watersheds and cause soil erosion. The second field study took place in Fujian and the research is focused on Shan’ao fengshui forests which are located at the bottom of the valley. Research found that the purpose of fengshui forests is to block winds from the valley. The removal of such forests can result in power outages, damage to buildings and vehicles, and injury or death of the villagers. The third field study is focused on Cūnkŏu fengshui forests. The purpose of this forest is to protect the village from erosion and wind. The villagers believe that the forest has another purpose and that is to hold the village’s wealth. The consequence of removing such forests will cause soil erosion, pollution to watersheds, increase soil acidity, and effect crop production[5]. Based on the field studies, it can be concluded that fengshui forests have a positive effect on the environment. Fengshui forests are found to contain a higher species diversity than other late successional forests; deforestation should be banned because it decreases biodiversity. It also discourages the passing of aboriginal forestry knowledge as minorities are forced to move to larger cities due to habitat loss.

Issue 3 Stakeholder Conflict

Context

The stakeholder variances in different areas under different situations:

In the case study of Fujian Province, stakeholders involved: Authorities involved in the administration of the management include the Forest Resource Office, Forest Development Office, Forest Rights Office. These representatives communicate with committees formed by Indigenous groups. All of which is under the control of the state. Tourists are also deeply involved since the Wuyi mountain is a renowned tourist attraction in China. They are concerned with the ecological sustainability and cultural preservation of the Wuyi mountain[8]

In the case study of Shui Village in Guangzhou, stakeholders involved: In order to fulfill the state model of development for southwest Guizhou, it is inevitable that many would disagree with the policies implemented. Developing tourism in the area requires a collaborative effort between authorities and Indigenous groups. And this process is complex, reflecting and amplifying many existing issues.[18]

In the case study of Fujian Province, stakeholders involved: In Longyan, many village committees collectively owned forest reserves for collective use and ceremonial activities. They hold medium power over the forests they are regulating. They make local rules of how to regulate the forests (cunguimingyue). The Hakka community is one of the major affected stakeholders. They own 88% of the entire fengshui forests in Longyan. The Hakka community holds medium to high power over the forest they are regulating.[19]

NGOs such as the Conservancy Association are promoting ecological conservation in Feng Shui forests. And the cooperation and communication between different stakeholders are ongoing.[4]

Law/policy/process

In the 1980s, the Chinese government reformed the forest tenure from collectively owned to individually owned. The goal is to reduce deforestation,  to improve forest management, and to increase productivity. This act has strongly benefited the Chinese minorities as they are dependent on forest products. Under this law, they have more rights to use the land and have more ownership of the products they grow.

With the reformation of forest tenures, the state also implemented the “Three Fixes Policy” and it includes fix forest land ownership, fix ownership of use rights to mountains, and fix responsibility for forest management.

In 2007, the Collective Forest Tenure Reform was implemented in Guizhou by the central government. The minorities in Guizhou have more rights to use and benefit from household forests.[2]

Recommendations for future development

Cooperation between the Indigenous group, authorities, and other organizations is key to solving the conflict between different parties. Also, the conflicts mainly arise from lack of communication. So it is important that the different stakeholders can communicate effectively with each other.[20]

Illegal exploitation of resources in the Feng Shui forests needs to be carefully monitored.[4]

Route map for progress

The Management Structure of Fengshui Forests in China

Management Structure of Forests In China[11]

The national strategic planning concerning forests in China is proposed by the State Forestry Administration Department[21]. With the national strategies proposed, the objective is delivered to the lower levels of the government under the forestry branch or Forestry Administration Department[21]. The specific operations will be carried out by different offices under the regional Forestry Administration Department[21]. In cases where management operations are planned to be beyond public land, village committees or local committees would be involved in the process[21]. This process will involve communicating management objectives, negotiating tenure arrangements, providing incentives, and much more related processes[21].

Progress and Development of Forest Law and Management of Fengshui Forests in China

In the early stages of the development of forestry in China, all forests are considered a public resource[21]. The concept of community-based management, therefore, did not exist until 1979[21]. After governmental reform in 1979, recognition of property rights for forests enabled collective ownership of forests[21]. Most forest area still remains a public resource, but parts of forests are auctioned for collective ownership[21]. Under the forestry property right, collectives such as local committees and Indigenous groups often control part of the entire forest surrounding their traditional land[22].

However, the increasing industrialization and urbanization in China after 1979 depleted forest resources significantly[22]. So it is necessary that a new forest policy or forest law be developed in order to protect the remaining forests for a sustainable future. As a result, the Forest Law of the People's Republic of China was developed in 1984[11]. The forest law outlined the detailed strategic objectives and management structure for forestry in China[11]. And the forest law was effective in managing forests in China to some extent[22]. There are still a number of problems in which the forest law needs to address. And throughout the years until 2019, the forest law was amended three times[11]. Each of these amendments considered current issues and future prospects of forestry in China[21]. And in the current amendment in force, the focus of the forest law is diverted mainly towards ecological management of forestry in China[11]. Although fengshui forests are not directly recognized by the forest law, the forest law is able to outline how collectively owned local forests should be managed[11]. The current forest law is effective in general terms, but still with some room for improvement such as managing for adaptations to climate change[22]. And these problems would be addressed in the next revision of the forest law[11].

Future prospect

As Chinese minorities are losing control of fengshui forests under urbanization pressures, resolving conflicts with state projects and gaining government recognition is the first step to protecting the forests. Currently, the villages of minorities lack of legal documentation for managing the forests because of their complex relation with local authorities. In order to protect their forests, resolving the tense relations with the local governments is necessary. It is critical to gain power in legal terms to protect the forest they are regulating. In China, community forestry regulated by Chinese minorities is not considered and accepted as ecological or sustainable forestry. Although research has found evidence that suggests fengshui forests are better maintained and regulated than any other forests through ecological perspective. Gaining recognition from the state should be the primary objective for environmentalists and minorities.

Cooperation between villages of minorities and the government is one of the solutions to solve the conflicts around fengshui forests. It may resolve the misunderstanding and conflict from lack of communication and come up with a new strategy of forest management that benefits both sides. Tourism is an example that is introduced in the research as a potential solution to reduce the conflicts between both parties. Instead of developing areas by harvesting forests to attract people, the villages of minorities can package themselves as a tourist destination. The advantage of this suggestion is that the villagers can gain another source of income, the forests won’t be destroyed for urbanization, there will be an increase in cultural dissemination, and the villagers can spread the knowledge and importance of fengshui forests. The villagers may even be able to apply for legal documentation for management and develop legal forest protection policies to protect the area. Disadvantages of this suggestion include the chance that outsiders may pollute the environment and interrupt the field work process.

References

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