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Academic Minute

Dr. Christopher Coggins, Bard College at Simon's Rock - China's Fengshui Forests

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-990529.mp3

Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Christopher Coggins of Bard College at Simon's Rock explains how the Chinese practice of Fengshui is rooted in principles used to effectively manage natural resources.

Christopher Coggins is an associate professor of geography and Asian studies at Bard College at Simon's Rock. Coggins has undertaken long-term field research on fengshuilin (fengshui forests) in southern China. His is the first systematic multi-province research of these village protected forests which dot some fourteen provinces in central and southern China. He holds a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University.

About Dr. Coggins

Dr. Christopher Coggins - China's Fengshui Forests

The Chinese word "fengshui," often translated "geomancy," is associated with magic and divination, but in Mandarin it simply means "wind" and "water." Thousands of southern Chinese villages use fengshui to manage forests for protection against wind and rain. Fengshui masters seek optimum locations for settlements, houses, temples, and tombs to insure the well-being of generations past, present, and future. Sites with good qi (or vital energy), contain a balance of yin and yang. Since qi flows within wind and water, village "fengshuilin" (or fengshui forests) are strategically sited to provide cosmological protection, to guard against storm winds and flood damage, and to conserve water for crop cultivation.

Fengshui forests are refugia for rare trees and potential seed banks for reforestation in one of the world's most biologically diverse but ecologically degraded countries. Few fengshui forests exceed several acres in size but most contain the largest and oldest tree specimens of their kind. These include taxa common in eastern North America. The oak-beech family, magnolias, and laurels once flourished across the Laurasian supercontinent before it separated to form North America and Eurasia. Today China's forests are the most biologically diverse descendents.

Fengshui forests have survived through strict communal protection - the fine for cutting a tree was either one pig - a dreadful penalty for a farmer - or the immediate destruction of the illicit timber. Many fengshui forests are located behind ancestral temples and earth god shrines. But as spiritual beliefs change, state and NGO support and protection may be critical. We have much to learn from the fengshui forests; like fengshui itself, they provide a lens through which to envision China's communities of the future and to reconstruct the environments of the past.

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