The Stone Forest

May 15th, 2009

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After the flower market we headed out of Kunming to a national park: Shilin, the Stone Forest. The drive itself was educational, showing through rice paddies and terraced gardens that every available bit of land is used for agriculture. The park was beautiful, full of curved paths through striking tall stones with names like “bell stone” — it really rang! — and “looking at heaven and earth through a hole.” We missed our geologist and botanist friends to tell us about what we were looking at (karst), but as social scientists were fascinated by what the park suggested about local perceptions of nature. The scenery was clearly valued, but “improved” and managed through carefully constructed paths and definitions. Ethnic diversity was also used to enhance the tourist experience, with colorfully dressed members of the Sani people (which is not originally from this area) around every corner to sell cloth, traditional music, and photo opportunities. As the sign in the photo indicated, nature is best experienced by being civilized.

6 Responses to “The Stone Forest”

  1. mherrmannon 15 May 2009 at 2:16 pm

    What a fascinating site to visit! Thanks for posting the sign, in addition to the amazing landscape photos. The appeal to visitors’ “social-civilized” consciousness and behavior and the comment that the park is being established as a “National civilized scenery tourism area” are interesting in terms of our discussions about different approaches to conservation/preservation (i.e., the American idea of wilderness vs. other cultures’ preference for managing and civilizing it). It seems as though in China (at least in this area) the latter is more common. Do you have a sense yet whether the attitude reflected in the sign represents broader cultural tends/values? Mareike

  2. Mark A. Wilsonon 16 May 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Now that’s my kind of forest. Beautiful fluting on the rock — all made by naturally acidic freshwater dissolving away the limestone. (You wished for a geological opinion!)

    You three are looking healthy and happy. I’m enjoying the prose and images. time now for a movie!

  3. mabrodaon 17 May 2009 at 9:25 am

    We want a movie too, however, the movies are to big to attach directly to the blog, and YouTube is not accessible in China! We are trying to find a solution…

  4. mabrodaon 17 May 2009 at 9:31 am

    At this point, many of our conversations regarding conservation have been received positively. However, this is couched, in many cases, in the premise that if the natural areas are destroyed then tourists will not come and they will not be able to make money. We look forward to talking with environmentalists in Chengdu to discuss the ways they are trying to bridge the apparent divide between economics and stewardship. Tackling the question, “Why save it if it won’t make me money?”

  5. Shila Gargon 19 May 2009 at 8:49 am

    You raise an interesting point about economics vs. stewardship. But I wonder, how much of the subtleties in these conversations you are having about environmental issues are lost in translation!

    That said, poorer countries with long-term economic challenges tend to consider stewardship of the natural resources a luxury. Thus, cutting down trees to build shopping or apartment complexes is often seen as ‘progress’ and a necessity for the growing population.

    I was horrified when I returned to my hometown in India and saw absolutely no trees left in the neighborhood where I grew up. All I have left is memories of beautiful red flowering trees that filled the neighborhood.

    I am enjoying your posts and wish you continued good travels!

  6. Matt Gon 20 May 2009 at 12:17 am

    Would viddler ( work for movies or is it blocked also?

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