Eric Alms, PhD Candidate* - University of Zurich
Though the notion of protecting certain areas of land can be traced throughout history and across cultures, the systematic protection of nature through conservation areas has been shaped mostly by Western concepts of nature conservation and tourism. Today, conservation areas such as national parks are globally recognized as an integral element of nature conservation and a prime destination for nature-based tourism. This recognition is due, at least in part, to the propagation of conservation and tourism concepts through, for example, the UNESCO's designation of Natural Heritage sites and WWF initiatives encouraging sustainable tourism, contributing to the establishment of conservation areas worldwide. Through such involvement, global conservation organizations can have considerable influence concerning conservation and tourism policy, with significant social and economic consequences for rural areas, including, as in the case of Jiuzhai Valley National Park, the: (a) impact of conservation regulations, (b) displacement of people or even entire villages, (c) way economic benefits of national park activities are shared between people, (d) and the links between poverty and national parks. Behind all of these is the issue of the power of ideas about nature to dictate the way conservation and sustainable tourism is thought about and practiced and the negotiation of power between stakeholders. Based on qualitative and quantitative field research in Sichuan, China, this paper explores how national parks become battlegrounds of diverging interests where actors and agencies struggle over power, influence, and entitlements in the name of conservation, development and modernization.