Placing conservation within a broad framework of agrarian and environmental politics, this review article argues that natural resource governance is fundamental to rural politics in China. Much of the environmental literature adopts a technocratic approach, ignoring the political nature of the redistribution of access to and control over natural resources, and of knowledge vis-à-vis degradation. Reading the managerial literature with and against the grain of political ecological studies, the essay reviews contemporary environmental issues including Payments for Ecosystem Services and other market-based approaches, the establishment of national parks and resettlement schemes justified through ecological rationales. The first section following the introduction focuses on two of the largest forest rehabilitation schemes in the world. Next, the paper reviews work on China's rapidly growing number of nature reserves, examining their role as enclosures and their entanglement with tourism income generation. This is followed by a discussion of research on the politics of rangeland degradation and property rights. The inclusion of pastoralism within the scope of rural politics is sometimes obscured by the fact that China's extensive rangelands coincide almost completely with its minority populations. The misrecognition of rural politics over resources and the environment as ethnic politics is addressed in the concluding section.
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