Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Ecological Resettlement of Tibetan Herders in the Sanjiangyuan: A Case Study in Madoi County of Qinghai

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

Ecological Resettlement of Tibetan Herders in the Sanjiangyuan: A Case Study in Madoi County of Qinghai

Article excerpt

Ecological resettlement (shengtai yimin in Chinese) has been initiated by the Chinese government on a large scale and aims to help degraded landscapes to recover and to improve the living standards of local people in western China. Since 2003, the government has invested RMB 7.5 billion (Chinese yuan, over U.S.$1 billion) in Qinghai Province to establish the world's second-largest nature reserve around the headwaters of the Yangtze, the Yellow and the Mekong rivers (Sanjiangyuan). The resettlement of Tibetan herders from the Sanjiangyuan grasslands to urban areas is one of the project activities. Resettlement and the grazing ban policy are understood to have profound implications for those being resettled, as well as for their home and host areas. In particular, its rationale and consequences need rethinking, from both an ecological and socio-economic perspective. This article draws on field research and a case study in Madoi County to argue the logic for resettlement, to examine its socio-economic consequences and environmental effects, and to explore possible solutions.

Keywords: ecological resettlement, Tibetan herders, Sanjiangyuan, Madoi, Qinghai


In China, the notion of ecological resettlement emerged to describe a tool for enabling the ecosystem to recover and alleviating rural poverty after the Chinese government introduced the 'West Development Strategy' (xibu da kaifa) in 2000. An early strategy of ecological resettlement was to establish an environmental programme for returning non-productive cultivated farmlands to forests (tuigeng huanlin) and restoring the grasslands (tuimu huancao) (Du 2006). According to the data from the State Council West Development Office, to reduce poverty, seven million rural people were scheduled to relocate by way of ecological resettlement projects, while seven hundred thousand were relocated in the context of ecological resettlement during 2000-2005 (Zhang et al. 2005). Particularly in China's western regions inhabited by ethnic minorities, resettlement has become an important means of preserving the ecological environment, improving people's livelihood, and promoting urbanization (Hao 2009).

However, can the goals be achieved? What are the consequences? In recent years, ecological resettlement programmes for pastoral communities have received great attention not only from governments, but also from NGOs, social scientists and conservationists. Western scholars looking at ecological resettlement in China interpret it as a government-initiated 'permanent resettlement' of nomadic herders and pastoral farmers from fragile ecological environments to new or existing settlements outside these ecologically vulnerable regions (Dickinson and Webber 2007, West 2009). Some researchers have indicated that its logic, benefits and costs need careful examination and discreet rethinking, especially in the Sangjiangyuan region of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, where Tibetans have sustained their livelihoods in these grassland areas for hundreds of years (Yeh 2010, Qi 2011, Foggin 2011, Ptackova 2011).

This article will explore the above concerns through a case study from Tibetan resettlement communities in Madoi County (Ma Duo Xian) of the Sangjiangyuan. The author first argues that grassland degradation cannot simply be attributed to overgrazing and population growth, hence the idea of improving grassland by simply implementing resettlement projects may sound implausible. The paper then analyses the process and policies of resettlement and examines its socioeconomic changes and environmental effects. Although the herders are provided with free accommodation and a certain amount of subsidies, many cannot adapt well to the new urban lifestyle and some have an identity crisis, while their quality of life after resettlement is in general not very satisfactory due to high living expenses. Finally, this article explores possible solutions. This paper is intended to provide some important first-hand insights into ecological resettlement from the herders' perspectives. …

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