Naturalized Violence: Affective Politics of China’s “Ecological Civilization” in Xinjiang

Guldana Salimjan, “Naturalized Violence: Affective Politics of China’s ‘Ecological Civilization’ in Xinjiang,” Human Ecology, 6 January 2021.


Guldana Salimjan argues that recent environmental policies in China have destabilized preexisting relationships between Xinjiang’s Kazakh population and their environment. Herders have been forced to abandon their traditional livelihood and culture and now must now compete in the labour market. The state’s policies have generated both economic hardship and grief over the disappearance of longstanding cultural practices, especially because indigenous knowledge of the environment has been characterized as harmful to ecological stability. This perception, in turn, has justified removing the herders from their land.


As China entered a more “ecology-conscious” phase of development in 2012, the Chinese Communist Party utilized the slogan “ecological civilization” as part of its ideological framework of controlling borders, biopower, and resources. This case study from Northwestern China’s Xinjiang examines a national program of building “ecological civilization” that connects ethnic hierarchies, epistemic violence, and ecological imperialism. I argue that China’s utopian vision of building “ecological civilization” in Xinjiang is at the expense of excluding Indigenous populations as knowledge and stakeholders in resource management. Instead of improving livelihood and ecology, the rehabilitation-centric “ecological civilization” projects and ecotourism diminished local resilience and agency. The Chinese state capitalizes on pastoral landscape and labor through the powerful discourse of “ecological civilization” while the native community experiences grief for the loss of environment and landscape.

Keywords: Ecology, Pastoralism, Indigenous Populations