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"Ecological Migration" -- A Different Version of "Climate Migration" in China?

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Foreword from the editors:

Political scientists have long observed that ideas are modified and concepts are transformed as they are popularized around the globe. As the following review article by Prof. Wu Yanhong shows, the notion of climate migration is no different. As the concept gains traction in Chinese political discourse, it is imbued with a variety of contextual meanings. While some of the reviewed articles (such as the case-studies from Ningxia Province) portray the important nexus of climate change, land-degradation and poverty-induced migration, it is perhaps most striking to the non-Chinese reader that the notion of climate migration prominently appears as an additional layer of legitimation for large resettlement projects. Dam-building projects, in particular, are seen as climate-friendly measures and the related relocation of residents is hence framed as a form of climate migration.

For readers less accustomed to Chinese political discourse it might also be noteworthy that the articles presented in the following review rarely discuss migrants as actors who are actively deciding their own fate. As international migration is still much less in the Chinese public eye than domestic dynamics, it emerges that “migration” is generally framed as something the government organizes and supervises. While this tone owes, at least partly, to China’s strict control regime on internal migration, Prof. Wu’s review also indicates an absence of reflections by Chinese authors regarding the necessity of climate change mitigation as a policy response. This also holds true for the overlapping, but more officially recognized terminology of “ecological migration,” which is often employed in order to (over-)emphasize the environmental dimensions of resettlement projects that are, in fact, generally implemented for a whole variety of reasons. The political imperatives of China’s current public discourse will arguably make it unlikely that these concepts will be disentangled anytime soon, and, especially depending on whether they primarily write for a domestic or international (specialist) audience, Chinese scholars will likely continue to engage the concept of climate migration in strikingly different ways.

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Heinrich Boell Stiftung Beijing Representative Office
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