The community forests managed by the Miao People in Guizhou Province, China

A woman wearing Miao clothing. By 嚴逵 黃 via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Miao nationality is an ancient nation scattered throughout the world, mainly distributed in China's provinces such as Yunnan, Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi, as well as Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and other countries and regions in Southeast Asia. As a First Nation with over 5,000 years’ history, Guizhou province is chosen as the main settlement of the Miao People. Adhering to the survival mode of “slash and burn”, the Miao People have relied on the forest to survive on this land for a long time. As China’s history continues to advance and change, the rights of the Miao People in forest use and management are also changing. In this case study, I will mainly focus on the changing ownership of forests after 1981 (China's opening up) in Miao community forests, Guizhou Province.

Leishan County is located in the southwest of the south-western Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture (Guizhou Province), with a total area of 1218.5 square kilometers. The Leigong Mountain, one of the most famous mountains in Leishan, Guizhou province, China, is consisted of more than ten peaks (over 1800 meters). It has the most intact and original natural Taiwania flousiana community in China and is considered as an extremely valuable species gene bank for wild animals in China. The ethnic group dominated by the Miao nationality in Leishan County is rich in profound cultural connotations with 5,000 years of history. With abound of forest resource, the ancestors of the Miao nationality accumulated a lot of experience through a long time in order to use and manage the gifts of nature better. Nowadays, Miao People has formed a unique management system for natural forests.

Map of Guizhou, China. via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0.
Taiwania cryptomerioides (syn. T. flousiana). Plant specimen in the Kunming Botanical Garden, Kunming, Yunnan, China. By Daderot via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

As one of the key counties for national poverty alleviation and development, Leishan has improved a lot in social construction. The management of local community forests have been strengthened by the State as well. However, the current management of community forest is not perfect because of the conflicts between the customary practices of Miao People and codified laws of the State.

The Miao nationality was the earliest rice-cultivating nation. In the primitive society, the Miao People used leaves as clothing, caves or tree nests as their homes. Up to now, the Miao People have developed their unique culture and reflected in all aspects.

  • Farming culture: “Slash and burn” - It is a food production method that uses forest resources to implement rotation farming (Burning ground can generally be cultivated for 3 years in a row, and the ground can be restored after resting for one year; seasonal hunting)[1].
  • Residential culture: Cloister buildings with hanging foot are everywhere, and the main materials are Chinese fir[1].
  • Religious culture: The Miao people think that the souls of their ancestors will not go to heaven or hell, but live with them. As a result, one of the important tasks is to demarcate the commons, plant trees, and create shelter for the ancestors[1]. The Miao people think that people are sick because there are demons and ghosts invading the village. And the forest near the village can protect a village from being invaded by these demons. As a result, there are patches of natural reserves formed among villages[2].
  • Before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, because of turmoil and wars, the agriculture and economy in China were not managed in a very systematic way. large-scale forest land property rights and forest property rights were owned by feudal landlords. Small-scale forest land and forest property rights were owned by rich peasants. Most Miao people had no ownership of forest resources and no right to use them[3].
  • 1949 ~1981: 42% of China’s forest was owned by the state (state property) and the remainder were collectively owned (communal property)[4].
  • After 1981: State forests, where both ownership and use rights are held by the central, provincial, prefectural, or county government (state property); Collective forests, where ownership and use rights are held by local communities (communal property); Household forests, which remain collective property but in which individual households have use rights and ownership of trees and forest resources (private property)[4].

Affected stakeholders

Affected stakeholders Relative objectives Power & interests
Local people hired by government as foresters Higher salary from government, enhancing the management of forests High interests, medium power
Local Miao People relying on natural resources Maintaining basic life, More income from tourism High interests, medium power
  • Local people hire by government as foresters with the objective that enhancing the management of forests and higher salary form government. They have rights which given by government to patrol the forests and prevent illegal logging in nature reserve. At the same time, as local Miao People, they care about the forest because their families rely on it.
  • Local Miao People relying on natural resources hope they will have more income from tourism. These people will be influenced a lot if forest is destroyed because they will lose their most income and living resource.

Interested stakeholders

Interested Stakeholder Relative objective Power & interests
Tourists of nature reserve Beautiful scenery of nature reserve Low interests, low power
Wildlife researchers Maintaining ecosystem of nature reserve Medium interests, low power
County government Develop tourism in Leishan

Protect the ecosystem of nature reserve

Medium interests, high power
  • Tourists of nature reserve hold a simple objective that they just want to enjoy the beautiful scenery of nature reserve. If the nature reserve of Leishan has been destroyed, they will find another natural reserve to visit.
  • Wildlife researchers who want to maintaining ecosystem of nature reserve. They get payment or income from local government to do research on wildlife in nature reserve. They are authorized by the government and have no direct connections with forests.
  • County government who wants to develop tourism in Leishan. County government have rights to issue and confirm land contract management with local Miao People. They examine and approve adjustment scheme of local communities as well.

Leigong Mountain Nature reserve

Leigong Mountain National Forest Park was established in June 1982 with the approval of the Guizhou Provincial People's Government. In June 2001, it was approved by the State Council to be promoted to a national nature reserve. The total area of the protected area is 47,300 hectares, which is based on the protection of rare species such as Taiwania flousiana (including water conservation, tourism), nature reserves of subtropical mountain forest ecosystems with integrated operational benefits. In order to protect the natural resource of Leigong Mountain, Leigong Mountain Nature Reserve Administration was established as well. As an official administration, Leigong Mountain Nature Reserve Administration has made much contributions to the construction and development of Leigong Mountain Nature Reserve.

  • In response to the factor that the Miao People in the protected area are backward in culture and weak in realizing the concept of law, the administration publicizes the laws and regulations such as the “Forest Law” and the “Nature Reserve Regulations” widely to help the local Miao People raise their awareness of law.
  • The administration signed the contracts of responsibilities with the Miao People in protected area to implement the management and protection. The whole nature reserve has been divided into a lot of blocks and each block has its own protector (Miao People). The Miao People can receive salary from administration according to the contract if they perform their duties perfectly. 
  • A specific police force was set up to curb the illegal activities in nature reserve such as slashing, logging and deforestation.

Customary practice of Miao People

“Yilang” is a system of agreed conventions in the Miao society and a regional political and economic alliance organization[5]. The size of the organization is different, and several or dozens of stockades are the most common. The highest authority of Yilang is “Yilang Convention”. Its main task is to discuss major issues, formulate disputes, and elect various deacons. “Yilang” manages the daily life of Miao People through customary practices and regulations, and the regulations have become unwritten laws once they have been approved by the Miao People. “Yilang” of Miao People played an important role in maintaining local production, life and social order. Up to now, in many areas of Miao, the form of “Yilang” still exists. “Yilang” has become an effective supplement to the government’s administrative organization in some degree[5]. The Miao People in Leishan County have developed their own customary practices in managing their community forests and divided the community forests into three parts.

  • Scenic forest. It belongs to the whole village, and everyone manages it together. The terms are basically implemented according to the rules of the ancestors and violators will be severely punished[5].
  • Timber forest. It is divided into “responsible mountain” and “common mountain”. “Responsible mountain” is divided into blocks and assigned to household, each household will management their responsible block according to the uncodified regulations of the villager group (team). The team recommends full-time forest guards to coordinate and supervise. The “common mountain” is taken care of by the villagers’ groups. For the pruning and deciduous cleaning of “common mountain”, the whole group must act in a unified manner and must be completed in about 15 days (prevent deforestation)[5]
  • Firewood forest. All firewood forests are undivided collective forests, managed by various village groups. The main measures are 1) Dedicated guard. The rangers are recommended by the Miao People and can also be self-recommended (the rangers should be prestige and energetic); 2) The forest is divided into four pieces and villagers take turns to logging these four pieces forests, one piece per year; 3) Checking the forest twice a year (spring, autumn). Every household must participate. Those who do not participate will be fined. Everyone will patrol the forests together and will jointly assess them[5].

  • After the establishment of Leigong Mountain Nature Reserve, the life of local Miao People has been promoted a lot due to tourism. Many Miao People are hired by government to protect community forests in Leigong Mountain. However, the government restrict the use of forest resources by villagers in order to protect and maintain the natural resources in nature reserve. As a result, villagers are forced to maintain a normal livelihood by requesting protected area resources which does harm to biodiversity in reserve[6].
  • With the development of modern society, the traditional culture of Miao People has been greatly affected. Some customary practices are even not allowed by statuary laws and policies. For example, their traditional farming method “Slash and Burn” is not allowed by statuary law. And this will lead to a lot of conflicts between government and Miao People when both sides try to have co-management on forests.
  • With the death of the elderly and the birth of new generations, the spiritual culture of many Miao People has also changed, and has been greatly affected by the outside world, thus weakening the protection of forests. For example, the long-standing materialism has weakened the natural worship and religious concepts of some Miao People. They are no longer convinced of curses and natural punishments as they were, and they are unscrupulously cutting trees under the driving of economic interest.
  • The changes of lifestyle will affect forest protection. Miao People are not building houses that are purely timber structures, but some villagers are starting to build brick-and-wood houses. In this way, villagers will have less demand for wood, and the wood will be replaced by bricks. This affects the protection of forest resources by the Miao residents because they lose interest in their community forest gradually[7].

There are some recommendations, as far as I am concerned, may be effective for improving the problems.

  • The local Miao People should insist their traditional culture and conception of forest management. They can invite some professional foresters to have workshops with visual media to improve the understanding of local people about the sustainability of forests. And the villager can know whether their traditional forest management is reasonable as well.
  • Government should use ecological footprint theory to calculate the compensation for the Miao People living in nature reserve. With additional compensation from government, the Miao People will not steal resources in nature reserve to maintain their basic life. Based on the questionnaire and calculation, the compensation should be ¥607.7/capita/year[8].
  • The government of Leishan County should improve implementation of national and regional laws in line with local conditions. Reduce the conflicts between customary practices and statuary law as many as possible. Being careful about different districts with their own situations, various conflicts and management should be taken into consideration.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Mingyong, H., & Zhimin, M. (2009). Miao Nationality Culture and Protection of Forest Resources – A Case Study in Guizhou Province. Issue of Forestry Economics, 4(29), 287-291. doi:10.16832/j.cnki.1005-9709.2009.04.002
  2. Anhua, Y. (2004). Role of Traditional Miao Religion in Protecting Natural Zoology. The Past and Present Agriculture, 4: 99-102].
  3. Hong, M. (2006). Studies on the Miao Nationality Culture and Forest Institutions Changes.] Problems of Forestry Economics,26(4), 331-334. doi:10.16832/ j.cnki .1005 -9709.2006.04.010
  4. 4.0 4.1 Zhiyao L., Charles Peters, Mark Ashton, Jinchao Feng, & Dayuan Xue. (2016). The Effect of Forest Tenure on Forest Composition in a Miao Area of Guizhou, China. Mountain Research and Development, 36(2), 193-202. Retrieved from
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Guizhong, Y. (2006). The Effect of the Ethnic Minority Customs in Forest Environment Conservation——Some Examples from the Miao and the Dong Groups in Guizhou. Journal of Guizhou University (Social Sciences), 5(24), 35-41. doi: 10.15958/j.cnki.gdxbshb.2006.05.008
  6. Shaoqiong, Y. (2016). Community Management and Countermeasures of Leigong Mountain Nature Reserve in Guizhou Province. Journal of Agricultural Catastrophology, 6(1),60-62. doi:10.19383/j.cnki.nyzhyj.2016.01.025
  7. Hong, M., & Shi, G. (2007). Institutional Arrangement and Miao Nationality District’s Sustainable Utilization of Forest Reserves. Problems of Forestry Economics,27(1), 25-28. doi:10.16832 /j.cnki .1005 -9709.2007.01.006
  8. Rongrong, J., Jianxin, X., & Yang, T. (2014). Research on Ecological Compensation Standard of Leigong Mountain National Nature Reserve Zone Based on Ecological Footprint Theory. Journal of MUC (Natural Sciences Edition), 23(2),74-80 Retrieved from China Academic Journals (Qingdao Server) - Chinese - Physics, Astronomy, Mathematics (Series A)

Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST370.

Post image: By SONG1907. CC BY-SA 4.0.