Fengshui forests and village landscapes in China: Geographic extent, socioecological significance, and conservation prospects

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Fengshui forests, also known as fengshui woods or fengshui woodlands, are culturally preserved remnant groves of natural forest or small plantations that are common in southern China. Similar forests known by other names are prevalent in many parts of East Asia, including Korea and Japan, where they have long helped sustain rural livelihoods and ecosystems. However, as is the case with research on the origins of fengshui philosophy, research on the origin, diffusion, present-day distribution, and conservation status of fengshui forests remains relatively sparse. Much of the research into fengshui forests has been published in Chinese, and is not accessible to a global scientific audience because the manuscripts are not easily discoverable or because of language barriers. This paper provides a quantitative review of 57 original papers on fengshui woods written in Chinese since the 1990s. Content analysis of Chinese-language papers on fengshui forests demonstrates a geographic bias towards case studies from southern China, and a predominance of methodologies representing vegetation surveys conducted by forestry specialists. Published field results and previously published research on fengshui forests report very high floristic diversity. Our own field research in 57 villages in five provinces shows that these locally protected woodlands are components of common property regimes (CPRs) that have been better preserved than the other forests in southern China and usually represent the only forest remnants adjacent to villages and other settle- ments. However, fengshui forests face threats from industrial pollution, urbanization, and other forms of eco- nomic development. We briefly report on our own preliminary field results and suggest that more research is required to develop interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives on the historical and cultural factors that support the persistence of fengshui forests across China and East Asia as a whole, and to integrate these wood- lands within sustainable rural development strategies. These remnants of southern China’s subtropical broadleaf evergreen forests are especially important in light of current efforts by the national government to promote urban forestry, ecosystem conservation, cultural heritage protection, and ecotourism, and to increase the ca- pacity of natural carbon sinks within the country’s borders.

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Urban forestry & urban greening