The Tiger and the Pangolin: Nature, Culture, and Conservation in China

Article excerpt

The Tiger and the Pangolin: Nature, Culture, and Conservation in China, by Chris Coggins. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2003. xi + 340 pp. US$55.00 (hardcover).

One of the greatest changes in China studies over the past two and a half decades has been the ability of foreign scholars to undertake fieldwork in remote locations in China on increasingly sensitive topics. The Tiger and the Pangolin is a product of such work. Chris Coggins undertook his PhD fieldwork in the Meihuashan, Wuyishan and Longxishan Nature Reserves of western Fujian Province at various times from 1992 to 1999. The book is enhanced by having such a rich base of observation. The goal of Coggins' work, which encompasses various subdisciplines of geography (land use, cultural geography and historical geography), landscape ecology, ethnography and environmental history, is to suggest better methods for nature reserve management in China.

The book is replete with detailed information on history, ethnography and biogeography (especially of animals) within the reserves. However, chapters often return to topics that might have been better dealt within a single section, and the volume still has the feel of a dissertation rather than a book. The first chapter provides a short history of nature reserves in China and an introduction to the specific fieldwork areas in Fujian. This is the one of the few chapters which has sections dealing with China as a whole. The second chapter introduces us to the people of Fujian, with an emphasis on the upland areas, followed by a chapter on the history of tigers in south-east China, explaining past attempts to control tigers as well as the role of tigers in Chinese cosmology. The relationship of humans to tigers seems to have been exploitative, although Coggins makes an attempt to portray the cosmological role of the tiger in Chinese folklore as entailing respect. Recent attempts by the government to consider the tiger as an essential part of the landscape date from the 1980s.

Coggins next provides an historical geography of the village areas where he worked, and a discussion of the history of the management of agriculture and mountain exploitation in the area since 1949. …