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Can the Plateau Speak for Itself?

This project puts forward the mobilisation of representation as the political discourse from the Chinese government to reshape the socio-ecological order that is distinct from the Tibetan in the Zoige Plateau and investigates the potential of performative representation as a form of resistance against that environmental transformation controlled by CPC based on different ontological and epistemological positions.

The Zoige Plateau stores 45% of the Yellow River’s water during the dry season and the Zoige Marsh is China’s largest plateau marsh area, covering nearly three million hectares, and containing three billion cubic meters of peat. Beginning in the 1950s, the Zoige Plateau has been under constant geotechnical interventions over its waters and soils from the Chinese government. These reforms differ profoundly from the land management tradition of local peoples who are Tibetans keeping a nomadic lifestyle based on herding. Examples of this are a series of reforms centred around the land from the 1950s that converted the area into communes; the digging of large-scale ditches during the 1960s; large-scale road infrastructure construction, the stimulation of the livestock industry as part of the ‘Open up the West’ campaign from 2000; the buying of land from local indigenous peoples as part of the ‘Ecological Compensation Project’ from 2008; the Housing Project for Herders from 2009 which aimed at pushing people away from nomadic lifestyles; and so forth. All these political and landscape changes aim to strengthen government power and its hierarchical control over the region. Moreover, these are complemented by a broad poly-semiotic campaign made up of textbooks, slogans, propaganda, advertisements, and a broad push towards a consumerist society, which aims at changing modes of living and symbolises the government’s distinction between the ‘modern’ and the ‘backwards’. This changing representation of the plateau from the ‘home’ – which in the Buddhist tradition implies seeing the grassland as the Mother and the sky as the Father – to the plateau as a resource and commodity did not take hold by itself, but was implemented by political apparatuses. Currently, there is ample evidence indicating that the plateau’s environment is deteriorating. However, the government informs people of the opposite. This is done through media and supported by selecting ‘reasonable’ research. Through propaganda and biased scientific evidence, the government abdicates any responsibility for the environmental degradation of the plateau, and instead, argues that the cause of degradation is both climate change and local production methods, such as over-grazing. Consequentially, the government has implemented a series of policies to deal with those problems, thus engendering loyalty and appreciation.

The Zoige Plateau is always represented by ‘others’, but can the plateau speak for itself? This project will focus on the practice of representation in the Zoige Plateau, which is always entangled by politics, economy, socio-ecological relations and cultures, and then try to develop a form of representation taken by Tibetans to confront ongoing green development.

Key details


More about Mingxin

Mingxin Li is an environmental architect focusing on multi-scale representation of environment. He graduated from the School of Design at Jiangnan University in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Design and completed a Master of Arts in Environmental Architecture at the Royal College of Art in 2020. Mingxin Li is currently a PhD Architecture candidate at the School of Architecture, Royal College of Art.

BA Environmental Design, Jiangnan University, 2018.

MA Environmental Architecture, Royal College of Art, 2020.

Before studying at the RCA, Mingxin Li went to Switzerland to participate in the 2017 GIDE (Group for International Design Education) workshop. During his time at the RCA, he was the Student Representative of the MA Environmental Architecture Programme, and he focused on scales and non-human living beings in the context of environmental changes. In the Lithium Triangle Research Studio, he and his colleagues explored the legal conflicts and environmental changes between lithium extraction and indigenous communities in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.

The third-class Yuanxiang Scholarship (Academic Category) of Jiangnan University, 2017.

China College Student Entrepreneurial Project, 2018.

(2023) ‘Montanha Invertida’. Desejos Compulsivos. Galeria Municipal do Porto, Porto.

(2023) ‘The Ends of The World’. Desejos Compulsivos. Galeria Municipal do Porto, Porto.

(2020) ‘The Ends of The World’. Lithium. Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam.

(2016) 'GREEN IS CREATIVE'. Tongji University, Shanghai.

'Microorganisms in the Desert' in Lithium: States of Exhaustion (Eds.) Francisco Diaz, Anastasia Kubrak and Marina Otero Verzier. Het Nieuwe Instituut and Ediciones ARQ, 2021.