Bard College at Simon's Rock: the Early College
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Field Research in China

This course, titled Sacred Landscapes and Nature Conservation in China and the Tibetan Borderlands: Trekking, Research, and Service-Learning, introduces students to the physical and cultural diversity of the coastal plains, interior plateaus, and mountain ranges of China.

Through readings, talks, personal observation, and service work, students gain an appreciation of the biogeography and culture history of the subtropical Southeast Uplands, the Yellow River Valley, the loess plateau, the North China Plain, and the snow-capped Hengduan mountain region of the Sino-Tibetan borderlands.

The course focuses on human-land relationships, nature conservation efforts, and the social geography of sacred sites in rural mountain regions. We work from two bases: First the Meihuashan Nature Reserve, in Fujian Province, home of the South China Tiger Recovery Program (where conservation officials are training captive tigers for reintroduction to the wild); and second, the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of NW Yunnan Province, where Tibetans and other indigenous peoples are actively engaged in local and region-wide efforts to conserve nature and maintain distinctive cultural identities in the face of radical change, globalization, and commercialization. At both sites we work closely with village communities on projects initiated by our hosts, focusing on socio-economic development, environmental protection, or both. En route to our main sites, we visit several major cities, including Hong Kong, Beijing, and Xi’an, where we observe premodern relicts in the urban landscape, the impacts of colonialism, and the changing urban morphologies associated with the post reform period. We also pause for a two-day hike in Huashan, one of the five sacred mountains of Daoism. In Meihuashan villages, resident experts interpret the cultural landscapes associated with feng shui and its sacred trees and forests. In Diqing Tibetan villages local people explain the relationship between everyday life and the God Mountains, sacred springs, and groves associated with a range of presiding deities. The course can also serve as a foundation for continuing research and writing for additional classes, tutorials, and independent studies.

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