An Alternative to the “Indigenous” in Early Twenty-First-Century China : Guizhou’s Branding of Yuanshengtai

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68–102
Journal / PublicationModern China
Issue number1
Online published22 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


This article analyzes the contemporary salience of yuanshengtai, a Chinese concept that valorizes core features similar to those of “indigeneity,” including cultural distinctiveness and environmental stewardship of ethnic, rural peoples. Yuanshengtai deflects attention away from historically and politically contentious issues and transnational claims for rights that would call for official recognition of “indigenous peoples” by the Chinese state. Such a romanticized rhetoric instead helps reassert the polyethnic nation’s worthiness, mostly through cultural industries since the early 2000s. This article, based on interpretive readings and ethnographic observation, zeroes in on the example of Guizhou to explore how yuanshengtai has been widely constructed as an emergent eco-cultural brand through a combination of academic forums, media events, and cultural industry promotions. It argues that the construction and promulgation of yuanshengtai allows regional elites to reiterate local uniqueness and provincial identity while embracing the state’s agenda and global aspirations, precisely because yuanshengtai hinges upon the state-market mechanism in contemporary China.

Research Area(s)

  • yuanshengtai, ethnicity and indigeneity, state and market, southwest China, provincial identity