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Humanities 2016, 5(3), 54; doi:10.3390/h5030054

China’s Indigenous Peoples? How Global Environmentalism Unintentionally Smuggled the Notion of Indigeneity into China

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada
Academic Editors: Karen L. Thornber and Tom Havens
Received: 13 February 2016 / Revised: 10 May 2016 / Accepted: 10 May 2016 / Published: 15 July 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Global Indigeneities and the Environment)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [231 KB, uploaded 15 July 2016]


This article explores how global environmental organizations unintentionally fostered the notion of indigenous people and rights in a country that officially opposed these concepts. In the 1990s, Beijing declared itself a supporter of indigenous rights elsewhere, but asserted that, unlike the Americas and Australia, China had no indigenous people. Instead, China described itself as a land of “ethnic minority” groups, not indigenous groups. In some sense, the state’s declaration appeared effective, as none of these ethnic minority groups launched significant grassroots efforts to align themselves with the international indigenous rights movement. At the same time, as international environmental groups increased in number and strength in 1990s China, their policies were undergoing significant transformations to more explicitly support indigenous people. This article examines how this challenging situation arose, and discusses the unintended consequences after a major environmental organization, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), carried out a project using the language of indigeneity in China. View Full-Text
Keywords: China; indigenous peoples; international development; nature conservation China; indigenous peoples; international development; nature conservation
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Hathaway, M.J. China’s Indigenous Peoples? How Global Environmentalism Unintentionally Smuggled the Notion of Indigeneity into China. Humanities 2016, 5, 54.

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