A National Park Becomes a Growth Machine: Transnational Environmental Politics In Southwest China

Monday, July 14, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 419
Oral Presentation
Setsuko MATSUZAWA , Sociology and Anthropology, The College of Wooster, Wooster, OH
This paper examines the Yunnan Great River Project (YGRP) (1998-2009) in Southwest China, a joint conservation project by the Nature Conservancy (TNC), a U.S. based conservation organization, and the Yunnan Provincial Government.  The project was a vehicle for TNC to introduce a standardized model of protected area management to Northwest Yunnan, based on Yellowstone National Park in the U.S.   

The study, based on archival research and interviews, has three main contributing areas.  First, it sheds light on China’s fragmented bureaucracy.  Despite TNC’s race to save one of the World’s ecological hotspots within the project area, it became ensnared, not only in provincial bureaucratic politics, but also in relations between the central and provincial governments in China.

Secondly, the study reveals that global conservation discourses, such as ecological hotspots, may not necessarily create a common conservation goal among key local stakeholders (e.g., local governments and people).  They attached local meanings to global conservation discourses in order to advance their economic and/or cultural utonomy.  In other words, the political, social, and cultural particularities of the ecological spaces in Northwest Yunnan challenged TNC’s rationalized way of saving nature under globalization, and they influenced the organization to re-evaluate its conservation methods.

Thirdly, TNC’s inability to build alliances with other stakeholders (i.e., provincial governmental agencies, local NGOs, and local intellectuals) weakened its position when an entrepreneurial local government adopted the national park model primarily to create an economic development scheme and turned the idea of a national park into its “Growth Machine” (Molotch 1976).  The park ultimately undermined small local businesses and compromised TNC’s wish to emphasize community participation.