Exploiting Shangri-La: Assessing the Tibetan Plateau’s Natural Resources and the Work of Karl Wittfogel


  •  Brock Ternes    

Abstract

This paper applies Karl Wittfogel' s theory of hydraulic societies to China’s relationship with Tibet. It argues that the Chinese are interested in control over Tibet not only for its land, location, or wealth of natural resources, but also for control of its headwaters. Hundreds of millions of people rely on the numerous large rivers that start in the Tibetan plateau, making the region a critically important water supply for Asia. Wittfogel’s work theorizes that China’s territory and authority has expanded with the need to secure water for its large population and food production. The paper contains two sections: the first summarizes Wittfogel’s arguments, a history of Tibet, and China’s control of it; the second describes China’s attempts to modernize Tibet, specifically through river development, and the environmental damage caused by such efforts. Tibet’s rivers are crucial for the entirety of Asia, and the Plateau’s massive supplies of water are just one of its many resources. By focusing on rivers, this article describes the importance of Tibet and how increasing levels of resource extraction legitimatize Chinese centralized authority.



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1918-7173
  • ISSN(Online): 1918-7181
  • Started: 2009
  • Frequency: quarterly

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