The Myth of Desertification of China’s Northwestern Frontier: The Case of Ningxia (1929-1960)
Modern China, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 348-395, 2000
48 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2012
Date Written: 2000
In imperial China, government action to rangeland at the north-western frontier was for centuries determined by defense and what can be called “turning waste into use.” For the pacification of the region beyond the Great Wall, which frequently suffered from incursions by nomadic tribes, military colonies were established to reclaim land. The empire also set up Horse Pasturage Directorates (Mujian) under the auspices of the Imperial Stud (Taipusi) to ensure a steady provision of horses for military use. In contrast with the spatial perception of nomadic peoples, who valued the vast and open steppe, sedentary Han Chinese abhorred barren land that produced no grain. In their view, rangeland was no more than “wasteland” (huangdi) that needed to be reclaimed and cultivated. The garrisons of the Great Wall contributed to this purpose. Exiles and landless farmers who had fled from war and famine were resettled in these areas with government support. Thus, the garrisons could be strengthened while catering for military self-sufficiency in grain.
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