Representations of Green Tibetans connected to Buddhism and indigenous wisdom have been deployed by a variety of actors and persist in popular consciousness. Through interviews, participatory mapping and observation, we explored how these ideas relate to people’s notions about the natural environment in a rural community on the Eastern Tibetan plateau, in Sichuan Province, China. We found people to be orienting themselves towards the environment by means of three interlinked religious notions: (1) local gods and spirits in the landscape, which have become the focus of conservation efforts in the form of ‘sacred natural sites;’ (2) sin and karma related to killing animals and plants; (3) Buddhist moral precepts especially non-violence. We highlight the gaps between externally generated representations and local understandings, but also the dynamic, contested and plural nature of local relationships with the environment, which have been influenced and reshaped by capitalist development and commodification of natural resources, state environmental policies, and Buddhist modernist ideas.
We thank Beijing Forestry University, our field assistants Tashi Rabden, Pema Dechin, Tsewang Chomtso and Gele Chopel for their invaluable help, the Forest Bureau of Daocheng county for permission and support, and the people of Samdo for their hospitality and participation. The research was funded by the ESRC and the World Pheasant Association. This paper is a contribution to Imperial College’s Grand Challenges in Ecosystems and the Environment initiative. Two anonymous reviewers gave valuable comments on the manuscript.
- Sacred sites
- Tibetan Plateau