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In Session: Re-imagining Borderland Governance: Transforming Natural and Social Spaces in East and Southeast Asia
3: Nationalism, Modernization, and Environmental Conservation: a View from China’s Northeast Borderland
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
Worcester State University, United States
Questions about the sustainability of China’s rapid economic rise have centered in part on environmental issues. The degradation of natural resources, in particular, is a problem that has become especially prevalent in China’s borderlands, where state-sponsored exploitation of natural resources at the expense of indigenous populations has exacerbated ethnic tensions in regions like Xinjiang and Tibet. Less attention has been directed to China’s northeast borderland with Russia, where decisions about how to utilize and preserve forest biodiversity have been entangled with discourses on modernization, nationalism, and border governance. How have the specific historical contexts of migration, colonialism, and competing projects of modernization and industrialization in this region formerly known as northern Manchuria shaped more recent debates about and approaches to environmental conservation? This paper addresses this question through examining the writings of local forestry resource management planners, theorists, officials, and activists in the northeast province of Heilongjiang. While scholarship on environmental issues in China has noted the tension between the priorities of economic development and environmental protection, the local actors examined here reframe environmental conservation as an integral part of a state-sponsored nationalist and modernization project to control and mobilize social and natural resources along China’s borderlands.