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Pha Yul: an analysis of grassland management policies in Amdo-Qinghai

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This article does not aim to reconstruct the semantic evolution of pha yul. Rather, it seeks to retrace the evolution of the land management policies implemented by the Chinese government, through the study of the current polysemy of this concept. I will study the word pha yul analysing its multiple meanings, the different ways in which it is used and the articulation of these different meanings in light of recent political transformations and grassland management policies. This paper is based on data collected during ethnographic fieldwork between 2009 and 2010. I base the analysis on the example of two families of Tibetan herders relocated in a new settlement in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of mTsho lho (Chinese: Hainan) in Qinghai province. In the first part of the article, their life trajectories and survival strategies since the 1980s are discussed in relation to an analysis of transformations in land management policies and the concept of phayul. In the last part of the article, I will retrace the history of a number of heterogeneous land management policies - ranging from environmental protection to economic development - which have been implemented since the 1980s. Their succession and overlapping has deeply influenced herders' pastoral activities and their ways of exploiting regional resources. To a certain degree, these policies started social and economic transformations which actually met (and continue to meet) political, as well as environmental and economic aims of the Chinese government. Certain current uses of the word pha yul underline this trend. Nevertheless, others uses of this word highlight another kind of transformation, briefly analysed in the last part of the article: the rhetoric of Tibetan nationalism also uses the word pha yul to indicate the 'fatherland' of all Tibetans, claiming that it is big as or even greater than the entire Tibetan Plateau.
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Keywords: grassland management; new settlements; phayul

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2015

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  • Nomadic Peoples is an international journal published by the White Horse Press for the Commission on Nomadic Peoples, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Its primary concerns are the current circumstances of all nomadic peoples around the world and their prospects. Its readership includes all those interested in nomadic peoples, scholars, researchers, planners and project administrators.
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