Course:FRST370/Projects/Local vs official attitudes to Feng Shui Forests in Fujian Province, China

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Figure 1. the distribution of fengshui forests identified in the literature review and found from the field research in 2011-2015 in China[1].

Feng shui forests are widespread in old China. In Figure 1, the majority of feng shui forests are in southern China, especially in Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangdong and Hunan provinces[1]. However, there are many conflicts between local villagers and the government. Residents believe feng shui forests have deep meaning for them, so they protect them. They also have a belief that as they protect these forests, forests will also protect them when natural hazards are coming. While the government wanted to cut it down since the founding of New China (1949), and opposing feudalism was a fundamental task of the Chinese revolution. Besides, nowadays, the government wants to do urbanization and maximize the economic values, so local villagers are encouraged to move out of rural regions, causing the degradation of feng shui forests. Only a few feng shui forests in the remote areas are remained and protected well. Therefore, the development of feng shui forests was determined by the shifts of government’s attitudes and policies.

Introduction

Feng shui forests in Fujian Province are used as a real-life case. Fujian province locates at the southeast China, and the provincial capital of Fujian is Fuzhou. The maximum width from east to west is about 480 km, and the longest from north to south is about 530 km, and the land area is about 124,000 square km.

In Fujian province, there are frequent natural disturbances and human activities which limit the growth of vegetation, having a severe impact on the national economy and the life of citizens. In the 1950s, due to repeated damage, the forest had become crippled, and the protective ability was significantly reduced; Besides, the real forest population structure was too simple, resulting in poor forest biodiversity and stability which reduced the ability to resist pests and diseases.[2] The above reasons easily caused habitat deterioration. After the Liberation, local villagers consciously preserved these feng shui forests to alleviate the severe wind and sand damage suffered by the village.[2]

Tenure arrangements

  • Before 1949, feng shui forests was not controlled by the government in rural areas of China[3]. Fujian province was not an exception. The order and working efficiency were maintained by the kinship, and there were many punishments to avoid cutting. In many villages, residuals believed that feng shui forests would penalize people who had cut trees, causing diseases. The usual penalties were one mature pig, burning all cutting trees, detention, deprivation of food and beating[3].
  • Early in 1927, Mao Zedong considered feng shui should be abandoned as superstition[3]. Many feng shui forests in Fujian were damaged by human activities like burning, causing villagers to lose their homes and crops.
  • After 1949, the land redistribution system has swept across China[3], including Fujian. Parts of lands were belonged to the government for distributing to state-owned enterprises, while parts of lands were belonged to local villages for satisfying the demands of villagers.
  • 1958-1961: the Great Leap Forward. Many feng shui forests were damaged because of the demands of timber for producing charcoal[4]. Although feng shui forests didn't get protection from the government, forests were protected by villagers[3].
  • 1965-1966: the Four Cleanups campaign. Feng shui forests were suppressed again[5]. Feng shui forests suffered damage once again, and the life of local villagers has been influenced again.
  • 1966-1976: the Cultural Revolution. The majority of Chinese culture were destructed including feng shui[5]. The government believed feng shui experts who defined feng shui forests were deceptive and attacked them. Therefore, no one can define feng shui forests during the period from 1966 to 1976.
  • From 1978: the Open Door policy and economic reforms - the second boom of feng shui[5]. There was an increasing number of people paying attention to feng shui forests. The government began to understand and recognize feng shui.
  • 1949-1979, due to many political movements happened, feng shui forests were protected better than temples, but they still lacked official recognition and protection[3].
  • From the early 1990s, there is an increasing number of publications on feng shui, feng shui was frequently come up with on the aspect of environmentalism and ecology[5]. More and more people paid attention to feng shui forests.
  • In 2011, the majority of village forests that in Fujian province located in natural reserves[3], which means feng shui forests got better protection than before.
  • From 2015 to 2016, officials from Fujian forestry departments have begun to regard feng shui forests as a unique cultural and ecological resource; Nowadays, it represents the unique cultural and ecological heritage of the Chinese[6].

Affected Stakeholders

  • Local villagers: economic benefits and safety.

Villagers need bamboo, timber to build houses and furniture; Besides, drinking water resource is also necessary for their daily life[7]. If the forests were damaged, their daily life would be influenced, losing economic benefits. Moreover, feng shui forests can become the green belt barrier for the backward side of the village, protecting villages when natural hazards were coming[8].

Interested Outside Stakeholders

  • Forestry departments: maximum ecological, economic and social values and efficiency.

Forestry departments want to plant valuable trees as much as possible to get maximum economic benefits[8]. They always neglect the protection of feng shui forests. If forests are under an unreasonable management method for a long time, it is easy to cause the degradation of feng shui forests.

  • Environmentalists and ecologists: regard feng shui forests as a unique cultural and ecological resource.

Environmentalists and ecologists want to protect the ecology and environment of feng shui forests. Regional ecological resilience is significantly influenced by the policies made by the state and provincial environmentalists[4]. They believe human’s activities can damage the forests, including the government and local villagers, so they want to enclose the lands as protected areas. However, in this way, residents will lose their home where they lived from childhood to adulthood.

Local Attitudes

  • Local villagers are enthusiastic to protect and develop forests[7]. Feng shui forests are involved in their daily life, so villagers should effectively control natural and human disturbances (i.e., pests, fire, and illegal cutting)[7]
  • Local villagers are responsible for forest management because feng shui forests are their home[7].
  • Local villagers are neutral toward tax, charge and fund system[7]. They think when levying forest lands, these institutions shouldn't charge taxes[7], because the tax is not a small expense. No one wants the policy that damages their benefits.
  • Local villagers don’t like the quota control system[7](i.e., everyone has a limited number of harvesting bamboo) because this system damages the benefit of villagers. 
  • Local villagers hope to establish insurance policy reducing losses[7]. Although villagers want to protect forests, they still need income to ensure their daily life. The insurance policy is a good choice. 

Local villagers are willing to policies that are beneficial to feng shui forests because forests are their home. They believe feng shui forests can protect them when natural hazards were coming. Besides, they also believe that feng shui forests can bring their economic values (e.g., the land is best for planting bamboo and crops). However, for the policies which threaten the interests of villagers, they hold a negative attitude.

Official Attitudes

  • Township forestry stations and country-level forestry administrations are willing to accept different ideas to enhance forest management[7].
  • They are willing to listen and exchange opinions with cooperative farmers[7]. Trading information with villagers and institutions can better know their demand, and then forestry administrations can make better policies and get the support of most stakeholders (both affected and interested stakeholders).
  • They support tax, charge, fund and compensation system because they believe these systems can reduce the operating costs of local villagers[7], maximizing the economic benefits of residents.
  • They don’t like the quota control system because they believe this system is unequal to villagers. Bamboo is growing quickly, so they are no need to limit harvesting[7].
  • They hope to have insurance policies soon because there are no this kinds of policies that promise of reimbursement in the case of loss before[7].

Township forestry stations and country-level forestry administrations pose a positive attitude toward the policies which can achieve the maximum economic, ecological and social values of forests, getting profit maximization. They don’t want to share the power of feng shui forests’ administration, and they want to guide local villagers engaging in farm works technically.

Challenges

  • Feng shui forests occupy too large areas which are difficult to manage.
  • Residents hold various attitudes towards policies living in the village. Policies are hard to get everyone’s satisfaction and approval.
  • Villagers and the government are hard to get the same opinion because of the different demands.

Recommendations

  • Participatory approach.

In the 1980s, international organizations brought in the participatory approach to China, contributing to forest reservation and community forests management. Cooperation organizations are essential in developing community forests. When the government and local villagers have the same goals, they can cooperate well together. Besides, as the cooperation is good for feng shui forests and benefits villagers’ daily life, they are willing to attend cooperative organizations.[7]

  • Communication.

Local government and local villagers should frequently communicate with each other. Since they fully understand each other’s’ thoughts, the conflicts between them will be reduced dramatically.  Besides, local government and residents should make decisions together after a discussion.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Chen, B., Coggins, C., Minor, J., & Zhang, Y. (2018). Fengshui forests and village landscapes in China: Geographic extent, socioecological significance, and conservation prospects. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 31, 79-92. doi:10.1016/j.ufug.2017.12.011
  2. 2.0 2.1 Han, M. 2011. The research of geomancy forests around villages on sand in Dongshan Island. Master theses of Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University. Retrieved from China Masters’ Theses Full-text Database (Chinese with English abstract)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 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. doi:10.16995/ane.431965
  4. 4.0 4.1 Coggins, Chris and Jesse Minor (2018). Fengshui Forests as A Socio-natural Reservoir in the Face of Climate Change and Environmental Transformation. Asia Pacific Perspectives, Vol. 15, no. 2, 4-29.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Xu, Y. (2004). Fengshui in China: Geomantic Divination between State Orthodoxy and Popular Religion (review). China Review International, 11 (1), 35-41. doi:10.1353/cri.2005.0047
  6. 2017, July 27, "风水林"、"杀猪林"?:重新发现中国农村生态智慧. Chinadialogue. Retrieved from http://www.sohu.com/a/160371288_99907103
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 Hou, Y., Wu, J., Ma, L., & Wen, Y. (2013). Application of Participatory Approach in Community Forest Resource Management Based on a Case Study Performed in Fujian Province, China. Information Technology Journal, 12(20), 5906-5910. doi:10.3923/itj.2013.5906.5910
  8. 8.0 8.1 Xu F., Qiu E., Wang C., Dong J. &Wu Y. (2012). Tree Species Structure Characteristics of Village Geomantic Forest in Fujian Province. Acta Agriculturae University, 1, 1000-2286.


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