Yaks in Private Winter Pasture on Grassland of Zoige Plateau, Photo: Mingxin Li (2022)

Mingxin Li



Who Speak(s) for the Plateau?

Multi-scale representations of the changing coexistence in Zoige

This project puts forward the representation of the Zoige plateau under constant interventions from the Chinese government and the indigenous. The Zoige plateau stores 45% of the Yellow River's water during the dry season, and the Zoige Marsh is China's largest plateau marsh area, covering nearly 3 million hectares, and containing 3 billion cubic meters of peat. Beginning in the 1950s, the Zoige Plateau was constantly transformed.

The plateau itself imposed tremendous reforms that are totally different from the traditions of the indigenous, such as a series of land reforms from the 1950s, digging ditches from the 1960s, large-scale infrastructure construction and livestock industry of the ‘Open up the West’ campaign from 2000, Ecological Compensation from 2008, the Housing Project for herders from 2009 and so forth. All these political-based changes not only show effects produced by the government but also imply and strengthen the changeless sovereignty and hierarchy. Whether the government's goal is to control the locals and their territory or otherwise, all of these interventions are around the land, more precisely, are reflected in the reconstruction of the plateau through representations (semantics, textbooks, slogan, propaganda, advertisement of online store, definition and symbol of the modern and the backward, consumerism and market, and so on).

Changing the representation of the plateau from the ‘home’, less-developed region, and now to the resource and commodity, the discourse of the plateau is not taken hold by itself or its ‘children’ – the local residents, but was manipulated by politics. It is certain that the environment is deteriorating although the government informs people of the opposite result through the media or ‘reasonable’ research. Through representations, such as propaganda and scientific evidence, they disaggregate responsibility and convince people that the cause of environmental issues is climate change and local production methods. And then they adopt a series of policies to deal with those problems to shape their responsible figure, engendering loyalty and appreciation.

The plateau is always represented by ‘others’, but who speaks for the plateau? What role can representation play in speaking for the plateau and confronting the mainstream development theory? This project will around the representation of the Zoige plateau which is always entangled by politics, economy, social relations, ecology and cultures, and this process also constructs changing modes of coexistence.


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Ines Weizman