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Understanding Chinese cultural practices and the environment : a call for critical theory and hermeneutics Jones, Madison


Ecological problems that encompass the cultural traditions and customs of non-western peoples have been known to expose the western ethnocentricity subtly embedded within western environmental discourse and its core principle of universalist morality. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Chinese cultural practices associated with certain contemporary environmental issues: 1. Live Animal Markets make clear the underlining assumptions/values that western environmental activists hold regarding cultural others, and the protection of the environment itself; 2. Shark Fin Soup reveals the fundamental misunderstandings that environmental actors have regarding the broader Chinese socio-cultural contexts that drive consumption; 3. The Ivory Trade demonstrates false narratives, and the possibility for environmental activists to overcome misunderstandings to forge successful cultural dialogue. All these case studies touch upon the fact that when western environmental actors attempt to address the problem, they often inadvertently perpetuate/reinforce orientalist narratives about Chinese culture within the media, academia and the broader cultural sphere by engaging in heuristic tropes that frame Chinese bodies as: others who improperly transcend the boundary between nature and man in order to satiate their senseless tastes for “exotic” animals to the point that it will destroy “our” pristine ecosystems. This research paper argues that critical hermeneutics has a role to play within global environmental politics to expose these western, ethnocentric tendencies; it also advocates for the adoption of critical hermeneutics as both a method to acknowledge one’s own cultural pre-judgements to help safeguard against, if not outright avoid, the making of these mistakes in the future, as well as a solution to solve the environmental problem while respecting Chinese culture and traditions at the same time.

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