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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Environmental change, economic growth and local societies : "change in worlds" in the Songpan Region, 1800-2005 Hayes, Jack Patrick


This dissertation examines the relationship between human societies and natural landscape in the Songpan region of northern Sichuan, China from 1800 to 2005. It seeks to achieve three goals. First, it seeks to complicate our understanding of China's modern political transformation from dynastic state to republic and socialist state by adding an environmental perspective to these changes. Second, it seeks to complicate existing understanding of China's environmental history, which is largely concerned with developments in "China proper," by focusing on an isolated and historically autonomous locality in western China. Finally, this dissertation seeks to understand the historical processes that led to the region's gradual incorporation into the Chinese state in terms of changing patterns of land use, resource management, and how a variety of local actors interacted with one another to produce these changes. To achieve these goals, the dissertation explores and analyzes the various ways that indigenous communities, largely Tibetan, and successive Chinese states have inhabited the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau and how their socio-economic structures, land use strategies, political ideologies, and technologies combined with environmental factors to shape the world around them. This program of research contributes a local environmental and socio-economic dimension to existing political and religious histories of the Sino-Tibetan borderlands. No separate study has analyzed the social, political, economic and environmental encounters in the late imperial, Republican, and modern periods as a whole in western China. In order to analyze the dynamics of local socio-economic and environmental change, this dissertation de-centers China geographically and socially in order to look at an "exceptional typical" periphery. In the process, it challenges common and ideological historical chronologies of social and political development in western China. By analyzing Tibetan-Chinese political, social and market relations, it also adds to the literature of local elite and state patterns of dominance in twentieth century China. Finally, it contributes to a growing literature on Chinese environmental history by analyzing the role of changing systems of resource use and development in western China while revealing the often complex and dialectical ways that human societies and environmental factors have interacted in western China.

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