Course:FRST370/2021/Analysis of Fengshui Forest on Resource Protection in Yunnan, China

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This project is to introduce the fengshui forest in Yunnan, China and the practices that emerged from concepts of fengshui that help protects resources and local environment. Fengshui forests are typically small patches of forest planted around the village of minorities. It is widespread in southern China and has existed for more than 2200 years. In Chinese, Fengshui means wind and water. It is a traditional Chinese concept of linking the destiny of a person to its surrounding environment.

This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST370.


Fengshui Forest:

Fengshui Forest Landscape[1]

The custom of Fengshui can be traced back to the Shang Dynasty (1700-1100 BC) and Zhou Dynasty (1066-256 BC), and Fengshui forest has been widely used since the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC)[2]. There are three philosophical principles of Fengshui: the concept of Qi, the theory of Yin Yang, and the theory of five elements[3].

The concept of Qi:

“Qi is an invisible and intangible substance, a form of energy, solely responsible for providing the "breath of life to everything that exists in the Universe.[3]”Every human filled with subtle energy is a type of Qi, and the environment is the constant movement and transformation of Qi. The concept of Qi emphasizes the uppermost principle of keeping harmony in the ecosystem.

The theory of Yin Yang:

Ying Yang is the circulation and balance. It is formed by the circulation and interaction of Yin Qi and Yang Qi. Ying Qi and Yang Qi are two opposite energies that achieve the constant stage of dynamic balance. The process of circulation: “when a thing reaches one extreme, it reverts from it, that is to say, extremes produce opposite reactions and each object or situation invariably gives birth to its opposite”[3]. It demonstrates the circulation in the environment and the balanced relationship between humans and the natural environment.

The theory of five elements:

The Five primary elements: water, wood, fire, soil, and metal. The transformation of everything complies with the law of life cycle. It emphasizes the transformation and interdependence of substances and energy.

History of fengshui forest:

The first written record of fengshui forest was in the Records of the Three Kingdoms dated back to the three kingdom period which was around 3rd century that was proposed by Cao Pi, son of Cao Cao. It was first used as proctection for tombs of emperors. They would remove all the irrelevant trees and plant the same kind of tree (pines and cypresses). Later, with the evolution to the dynasty and cultures. Fengshui forests had became multi purpose and open to common people rather than limiting to the emperors. Villagers would build according to fengshui principle to optimize energy flow.

Location of fengshui forests:

Most of the Fengshui forests in China are mainly located in the southern provinces such as Jiangxi, Hunan, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, and Anxi. There are a total of thirty-six fengshui woodlands in the southern cities while only one in Shandong which is in the north of China. There are much more little fengshui woodland across China, but they are too small to count towards the total woodland. Two provinces should be acknowledged in China is that Fujian, and Guangdong, which are the two provinces that have half of the fengshui woodlands in china. However, due to the high level of destruction and degradation happened which caused the paragisms of the fengshui forests are lower than the other ones. Other countries such as Korea and Japan also have fengshui forest. In Korea, most of the fengshui forest were built back in the Joseon Dynasty, but urbanization had wiped out most in the city of Seoul. Further more, there are one hundred eighty fengshui forests are confirmed among the Island chian of Japan. The village people in the Islands of Ryukyu, Okinawa, Miyako, Minna, Ishigaki and Tarama have always been arranging fengshui forests in their villages. Thus, the woodlands get to thrive until today.

Functions of the Local Fengshui Forests

  • Protection of wildlife, soil, wind, and local watersheds;[4]
  • Increase carbon storage capacity and expand natural carbon sinks;
  • Bring prosperity, wellbeing, and good fortune[4] to the communities that protect them;
  • Reduce climate change and air pollution[4]
  • A source of resource for local villagers
  • Bring luck to people and the surroundings
  • Create harmony between humans, nature, and supernatural forces[2]
  • Maintain forest sustainability
  • Prevent soil erosions[3]
  • Provide resources for surrounding villagers

Importance of Local Fengshui Forests[4]

  • Cultural values:
    • create a peaceful living environment and maintain well-organized living communities following the principles of fengshui
    • influence of balance and order allows local community members to care for young and elders and generations present a strong sense of families
  • Physical values:
    • flourishing fengshui trees is the natural heritage in Fengshui settlement
    • fengshui forest is considered as physical barriers for protection
    • prevents soil erosion, protect water resources, improve local climate

Benefits of Fengshui Forest on Natural Environment Protection

Beneficial Practices:

Holistic design approach: contemporary sustainable design, urban space resolution, and contemporary interpretation are needed[4]. Balance and harmony between social, environmental, ecological, and economic aspects are all important for a contemporary sustainable environment.

Energy conservation: solar, wind, and geothermal energy

Use of water resources:

  • water is considered to contain living Qi; appropriate use of water can maximize the living Qi (maximize the prevention of local environment)[4]
  • methods for providing water resources: planting FengShui trees at the edge of the river and lake[3]; collect water through the excavation of ponds and storage of collected water; recycling and reusing of water resources[4]

Use of local resources:

  • Local communities consider human beings as the embodiment of Qi. A good living environment can form better harmony and circulation between human Qi and Qi of all types of substances[4] so that local residents must protect and use local resources following the rules of fengshui.

Family and clan-oriented villages:

  • create a peaceful living environment and maintain well-organized living communities
  • well-preserved cultures

Influence of balance and order:

  • caring for young and elders
  • do not perform detrimental behaviours that disturb Qi[4] ( local people regard activities disturbing local environment as behaviours that disturb Qi)
  • generations with a stronger sense of families as they believe better relationships between community members can bring good Qi to the village

Provide a blueprint for future sustainable planting:

After China has announce that it is aiming to be cabon neutral by 2060. Ecologist have been studying and believe that the ancient forests can play a key role in China's future ecological future. The forest area per person is only 25% of the global average in China, and forest coverage was said to be increase by 26% by 2035 due to the reason that scientists have find that fengshui forest could privide a blueprint for the sustainable planting. Fengshui forest are rich in biodiversity with wide varity of indigenous trees and the plants are best suited for the future climate. Even though each fengshui forest may be only few acres in size, but with great care, they can quickly grow in size, Morover, studies have shown that ancient feng shui forest are the best models for modern sustainable city growth as the biodiverse pockets of greenery can help to withstand disease and pollution. It has a large-scale seed bank for reforestation. With the intention to regenerate fengshui forest, it will be a tangible difference as a carbon sink looking 50 years out.

Regeneration of fengshui forest:

Not only villagers are protecting fengshui forests, there is also state protection now. These fengshui forests are now listed as baohu xiaoqu(samll protected areas), people will be fined for any damages to the fengshui forests. This further push the protection of fengshui forests elsewhere in China.

Current Management Status of Resource Management

The current problem is that fengshui forests are still lacking offical state recognition and conservation, due to the event in 1927, fengshui was abandones as supersition by Mao because he believes that fengshui is a major structural barrier to modern progress. Thus, the existing fengshui woodlands were under great threats. In addition, some fengshui forests were sold illegally to private devvelopers for construction of industrial parks and apartment complexes. Until it was after the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) that fengshui forest were used again and it was designated to be used as a collective land.

Tenure Arrangements

History of Tenure Arrangements

The tenure arrangements of Fengshui forests in China can be generalized into three phases. The first phase occurred before the People's Republic of China was established. During this period of time, the emperor holds the legal rights of all lands in China. All farmers and households are renters that lives on the emperor's land and they don't have any legal rights over the property they live on. The second phase occurred at the beginning of the establishment of the People's Republic of China. During this phase, the ownership of the land transferred from the emperor to the state. Under communism, the state has full control over land ownership and there was no private ownership over lands across the country. All property is said to be communally owned and each individual can receive a portion of the communally owned land. The third phase occurred in 1979 and China is still experiencing phase. During this phase, the government reformed and changed the policies on property rights. Two types of land ownerships was established and they are stated-owned and collective-owned. The state-owned ownership are mostly over urban lands and collective-owned ownership are mostly for farmers over rural lands[3]. In Yunnan, there are three types of tenure since 1980s. The three types of forest tenures are state forests, collective forests, and household forests[3]. 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 the land 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.

Big Governmental Events that Affected Fengshui Forest

China is considered as a "forest poor" country[4]. During the Great Acceleration, a massive amount of forests was harvested to establish urban lands. In 1927, under Mao's supervision, Fengshui forests was abandoned because he believes that fengshui is a major structural barrier to modern progress. Since then, Fengshui forest is unrecognized and disrespected by the state and the new communist party. Some research showed that many Fengshui forests in China are illegally sold to private developers for construction of industrial parks and apartment complexes[4]. 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 for the minority people.

Administrative Arrangements

Historical events
  • Before the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, forest lands were mostly owned by individual households. After the establishment, the ownership changed from individually owned to state-owned and community-owned.[5]
  • from 1958-1961, the Great Leap Forward happened[5]. After the Great Leap Forward, collectively owned forests increased significantly and collectively owned forests was 8% more than state-owned. The Great Leap Forward has successfully accelerated the development of Chinese industrialization and the demand for timber increased significantly. As a result, the state failed to manage forest sustainability.
  • In the 1980s, the Chinese government reformed the forest tenure[5]. The government changed the forest from collectively owned to individually owned. The goal of the change is to reduce deforestation, improve forest management, and increase productivity. It has strongly benefited Chinese minorities as they are greatly dependent on the usage of the forest and forest products. After the reformation, local communities have more rights to use the land and have more ownership of the products.
  • The state also implemented the “Three Fixes Policy”[5] and it includes fixing forest land ownership, fixing ownership of use rights to mountains, and fixing responsibility for forest management.
  • In 2007, the Collective Forest Tenure Reform was implemented in Southern China by the central government. The minorities in Southern China have more rights to use and benefit from household forests.

The administrative arrangements of Fengshui forest in Yunnan are complicated. Nowadays, there are three types of forests in China, state forest, collective forest and household forest. State forest's ownership and use rights are held by the central, provincial, prefectural, or county government. Collective forest's ownership and use rights are held by local communities. Household forest remains collective property but individual households have use rights and ownership of trees and forest resources.

Customarily laws and regulations for the village:

The moral restraint were formed by common values within the families in the village, and the village has a huge impact on the behaviour of villagers. The traditional regulations are orally inherited from generation to generation, and they have been very effective. Even though there are no clear provision for punishments, but it is a default that when villagers violate the traditional rules, the violators will be morally condemned by the family and others in the village.

Affected Stakeholders

Chinese Minorities

In the case study of Yunnan Province, the affected stakeholders include the people in Mangba village, Naxi village, Qingkou Hani village, Naidu village, and the Shaxi village. Each village is occupied by a different group of Chinese minorities. Although their culture may be slightly different, they all rely heavily on Fengshui forests for protection and resources. Each village has a spiritual and physical connection to their forest. The villagers believe that Fengshui forests are sacred as it offers good future destiny, safety, and longevity of the community. Naidu village, for instance, the villagers are affected stakeholders because they are physically and culturally linked to the Naidu’s collective forest. The villagers of Naidu lived there for generations, they are likely be personally affected by activities happened in their customarily claimed forest area as they have a long-term dependency to that area[5][6]. Aside from the villages, affected stakeholders also include the Jidi Village Committee. The Jidi village committee is an affected stakeholder because they set rules for seventeen villages in Yunnan. They are physically and culturally linked to the collective forest as the Jidi Village Committee develop their own rules and practices for managing their forests. They have a long-term dependency to that area and are most likely be affected by intrusive activities.

Local Governments

Affected stakeholders involved in the administration of forest management include the Forest Resource Office, Forest Development Office, and the Forest Rights Office. They are affected stakeholders within this case study because they are physically connected to the collective forests. These authorities are the representatives of the state and they directly communicate with committees formed by Indigenous groups.

Interested Stakeholders

Forest and woodland cover and national-level nature reserves in mainland China in 2000 and the loss of this cover in ten years.[7]

In the case study of Yunnan Province, the interested stakeholders include the logging companies, land developers, and non-wood product markets. Timber companies are interested stakeholders because they are linked to an activity relating to the forest and are not culturally or physically linked to the forest. The timber companies harvest timber for profit, they rely on the area for a short time period. In other words, they don’t have a long-term dependency to that area so there are no spiritual or cultural relations between the forest and the timber companies. Interested stakeholders also include the land developers. As mentioned before, land developers are eager to takeover the area and develop it into industrial parks and apartment complexes[4]. They are interested stakeholders because they are not spiritually or culturally related to the collective forest. The land developers are more transactional/ money involved than spiritually involved. Same concept for non-wood product markets, the markets deal with the resources produced from the collective land. It is not spiritually nor culturally involved. Naidu village, for an example, the Fengshui forest beside the village produces mushrooms that are favourable in Japanese markets[6]. For this example, the Japanese market is considered as an interest stakeholder because they are linked to a transaction relating to the forest. They are the buyers of the mushrooms picked by Naidu villagers within Naidu’s collective forest, there are no cultural or physical links between the two. They do not have a long-term dependency to that area because they easily can find that type of mushroom anywhere else in China.


Issue of Deforestation & Habitat loss

There is no doubt that deforestation of fengshui forest will have negative impact. Ecologically speaking, the removal of the forest will result in pollution, soil erosion, decrease in biodiversity, flow of debris, unable to connserve water in the mountainous areas, and risk of crop lands damaging. While for the villagers, the loss of the fengshui forest also means that they no longer gets the shade in the summer and shelter during the winter. Further more, non-wood forest product becomes unavailable as well. On the other hand, the deforestation can bring chaos to the village as fengshui forest represent scared trees as well as "treasure of the town" and "god".

Issue of Community-based management

There are new challenges and opportunities for a more sustainable future. The villagers have been trying to avoid using pesticides and change into an organic vegetable garden. They will need fund for the sustainability of the forests, and they are anxious about the market price of their harvests. Moreover, they also need cash for education, medical and other expenese. They are also hoping for more visitors can come without nnegative immpact to their nature and culture as well as hoping for more infrastructure developments, but it may be hard to afford for financially and eviromentally. Overall, funding is one of the biggest chanllenge they are facing for the future.

Assessment of Relative Power

High importance and high influence

Traditional authorities:

  • Jidi village committee has high importance in the decision making of the local fengshui forest. They are emotionally connected with the local environment and they make decisions that truly benefits their communities and villagers. They also have high influence in the local fengshui forest with their great impacts of local practices and regulations in the forest management.

Government forestry agent:

  • National Forestry and Ministry of Natural resources are importance[5] as they have the ability to directly control the usage of the forest and their decisions impact the managements of fengshui forest in Yunnan. Due to centralization system in Chinese government, the government forestry agents have the largest power in the fengshui forest, a

High importance but low influence

Local community people:

  • Residents in local communities around fengshui forest have low influence as their voices are hard to be heard, but they are really important for fengshui forest. They live near the forest for generations so that they have the emotion connection with the environment and their livelihoods are directly affected by the forest, which make them protect the forest and emphasize the sustainability of the forest.

Low importance but high influence

Logging Companies:

  • human connection with people within the government (easier to get logging permits)
  • financially wealthy (can purchase lands to gain the legal title of the area)
  • have the equipment to violently access the forests to harvest

Land Developers:

  • Land developers have relative power is similar to logging companies and may be partners with the government to operate projects, thus, have legal permits.

Third Parties:

  • NGOs have high influence in the balancing the voice of the government and local communities. They make sure that both sides communicate
  • environmental NGOs use their knowledge to help with the fengshui forest in scientific ways (rice-growing) and also study from the fengshui forest to enhance their knowledge.

Low importance and low influence

Labour movement:

  • Local communities around fengshui forest in Yunnan has labour movements during seasons for harvesting. They have low influence and low importance as their behaviours do not affect the forest a lot and their livelihoods are not directly dependent on the forest.


Chinese minorities are losing control of fengshui forests under urbanization pressures, therefore, 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.

The ancient fengshui forests are definitely the future for sustainability. By being able to carbon neutral in 2060 as a goal for China. China should definitely be focusing more on the forests, especially fengshui forest as they are found to be higher in biodiversity than another succession forests and generally more suitable for the climate. In order for this to happen, awearness of the government is essential. Further more, education on this topic is necessary as this can bring awearness to the public as well. The overall of this would just be generally good for the human race at the end.


  1. Coggins, Chris (2017). "China's fengshui forests". China Diaialogue.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Yuan, J., & Liu, J. (2009). Fengshui forest management by the Buyi ethnic minority in China. Forest Ecology and Management, 257(10), 2002–2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Ceranic, B.M., & Zhong, Z. (2007). FengShui – a systematic research of vernacular sustainable development In Ancient China and its lessons for future.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 Zhong, Z., & Ceranic, B. (2008). Modern interpretation of fengshui in contemporary sustainable residential design. Eco-Architecture II. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name ":1" defined multiple times with different content
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Coggins, C., Chevrier, J., Dwyer, M., Longway, L., Xu, M., Tiso, P., & Li, Z. (2012). Village Fengshui Forests of Southern China – Culture History and Conservation Status. ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts, 19(2), 52-67. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name ":2" defined multiple times with different content
  6. 6.0 6.1 Menzies, N. K (2007). In Our forest, your ecosystem, their timber: communities, conservation, and the State in community-based forest management. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. Chapter 2.
  7. Guopeng Ren, Stephen S. Young, Lin Wang, Wei Wang, Yongcheng Long, Ruidong Wu, Junsheng Li, Jianguo Zhu, Douglas W. Yu (2015). Effectiveness of China's National Forest Protection Program and nature reserves. The Society for Conservation. pp. 1368–1377.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)


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