Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 8, Issue 1–2, pp 59–66 | Cite as

The indigenous knowledge of ecological processes among peasants in the People's Republic of China

  • Paul M. Chandler


A decision-tree model of an indigenous forest management system centered around shamu (Cunninghamia lanceolata),an important timber species in China, was constructed from extensive interviews with peasants in two villages in Fujian Province, China. From this model additional interviews were conducted to elicit from these peasants their reasons for selecting among decision alternatives. Those reasons that were of an ecological nature were discussed in detail with the peasants to elicit indigenous interpretations of ecological processes in order to test an hypothesis that a strong analogy exists between traditional indigenous and scientific knowledge of ecological processes.

Three cases are presented that test this hypothesis. These three cases concern the effect of intercrops on the growth of shamu,the relative merits of seedlings and root collar sprout cuttings for forest regeneration, and the effects of repeated plantings of shamuon soil chemistry. All three cases provide strong support for the research hypothesis and suggest that, even in the absence of a formalized scientific method, humans exercise mental processes typical of scientific thinking. This phenomenon is called proto-science.

Key words

indigenous knowledge agroforestry proto-science shamu Cunninghamia lanceolata ethnoecology 


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1991

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  • Paul M. Chandler

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