JOURNAL OF NATURAL RESOURCES ›› 2019, Vol. 34 ›› Issue (9): 1807-1819.doi: 10.31497/zrzyxb.20190902

• National Park and Protected Areas • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Construction of national protected areas system: A reflection on the Western-based criteria and exploration of a Chinese approach

SONG Feng1, DAI Ying2, SHI Yan-hui3, WANG Bo1   

  1. 1. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China;
    2. Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 9EF, UK;
    3. School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK
  • Received:2019-02-20 Revised:2019-05-31 Online:2019-09-28 Published:2019-09-28

Abstract: Learning and borrowing Western experience and criteria played an important role in the establishment of China's modern protected area system. However, at present, after the system took shape, some insufficiency in the international standards have been exposed. For example, they lack a systematic framework for understanding the value of cultural landscapes. Under the favourable circumstances of the recent institutional reform, it is timely to reflect on the tradition of borrowing the Western-based international criteria. This paper first compares the establishment process of the international conservation system with that of China and argues that China was not able to participate in the design and criteria-formulation in the earlier stages, which led to the under-representation of its development phase and the characteristics of the cultural landscape of its protected areas. Secondly, the cultural landscape characteristics of Chinese protected areas are analysed from the perspective of the overlapping geographical distribution of population and the protected areas. It is then pointed out that there has been a distinction between the traditional Chinese concept (syncretism between people and their living environment) and that of the West (the opposition between nature and culture). Thirdly, this paper addresses the dual challenges of conservation and development that Chinese protected areas have been faced with. It challenges the rationality of applying the criteria formulated on the protected areas in a specific population and development context to others in a totally different context. Finally, a more critical view is suggested when we learn from the experience of other countries and deal with the international criteria. It is necessary to take full consideration of the comparability of the human-land relationship and to realise the political implication of international conservation careers as provided by international agreement systems. Meanwhile, it is time to devote more efforts to explore a Chinese approach of sustainable and peaceful development based on the cultural landscape characteristics and developing pressures on Chinese protected areas, which will contribute to a wider range of countries and regions that are faced with similar dual challenges of conservation and development.

Key words: western-based criteria, a Chinese approach, protected areas, cultural landscape