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Special Feature

Resisting Modernity and Indigenising the Future: Living with Pollution and Climate Change in a Sacred Landscape in Southwest China

Brendan A. Galipeau
p. 29-38


In Dechen (Bde chen) County, Yunnan Province, a Tibetan county of the People’s Republic of China, prominent lay Buddhist practitioners work to resist and mitigate the impacts of agrochemical pollution and climate change on sacred landscapes. In this region of northwest Yunnan officially renamed and dubbed “Shangri-La” by the local and national state for tourism purposes, and in alignment of this name with the term Shambala, a place of divine serenity in Tibetan Buddhism, the protagonists in this paper insist that chemical futures and pollution are only adding to the creation of a “fake” Shangri-La, and that more than human- and nature-centric views are necessary in building a more ecologically sound future. This paper ethnographically analyses these activities and motivations in the context of ecocentric views surrounding indigenous Tibetan more-than-human spirit worlds. I ask what drives rural Tibetan grape-growers to pursue an ecologically friendly agenda. Motivations include observation of chemical degradation on land, Buddhist ethics, local land worship, and conceptions that being a local Tibetan should revolve around the preservation of sacred landscapes and mountain gods and spirits rather than purely economic profit and development. A critical variable, however, is that lay Buddhists holding these beliefs are exceptions, with most villages showing more concern for the economic benefits of new cash agricultures over sacred landscapes and spirits. I argue that while many villagers are willing to ignore the long-term vitality of the sacred landscape in favour of economic prosperity and view new economic activities as morally acceptable within Tibetan spirituality, some individuals insist that preserving the local landscape is paramount to a sustainable future both locally and across Greater China.

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Editor’s notes

Manuscript received on 3 November 2022. Accepted on 23 November 2023.


Full text document will be published online on December 2024.


Tibetan landscape animism, cosmology, and climate change beyond the human
Ani Dom, pollution, compassion for life, and Khawa Karpo
Li Weihong, care for the land, and ecological entrepreneurialism
Reactions to pollution and climate change in the context of modernity and Khawa Karpo cosmology

First lines


Buddhism and belief are very important for protecting the environment and for sustainability. If you believe in Buddhism and you believe in your heart and pray, this helps us to protect our mountain, the glacier, the forests, and the river and water. (Ani Dom, 1 May 2015)

I easily recall my first encounter with Ani Dom in Bu Village in Dechen County of northwest Yunnan in 2014. While his daughter and I sat in her living room discussing the local wine economy in the village, an elderly man in a wide-brimmed hat appeared with a beautiful strand of Tibetan prayer beads in his hand. This was Ani Dom. From that moment, I listened, captivated, to him talk about the region, the sacred mountain Khawa Karpo, Buddhism, the forest, his previous life as a hunter, and the pollution occurring with viticulture. I would later discover that his and others’ perceived impacts of pollution were connected with local climate change realities. This first meeting opened my eyes to a new type of ...

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Bibliographical reference

Brendan A. Galipeau, “Resisting Modernity and Indigenising the Future: Living with Pollution and Climate Change in a Sacred Landscape in Southwest China”China Perspectives, 135 | 2023, 29-38.

Electronic reference

Brendan A. Galipeau, “Resisting Modernity and Indigenising the Future: Living with Pollution and Climate Change in a Sacred Landscape in Southwest China”China Perspectives [Online], 135 | 2023, Online since 01 December 2024, connection on 04 March 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Brendan A. Galipeau

Brendan A. Galipeau is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Anthropology, National Tsing Hua University, 101, Section 2, Kuang-Fu Road, Hsinchu City, 30013, Taiwan (

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The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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