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Small Hydropower for Electricity and Modernity, Impacts on the Everyday Lives of Minority Communities in Yunnan’s Nu River Valley.

Authors: Thomas Ptak*, University of Idaho
Topics: China, Energy
Keywords: China, Energy, Hydropower, Yunnan
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Development of energy infrastructure has long occupied a pivotal role in shaping a number of China's contemporary issues and as central, provincial and local government organs work to address a range of interrelated crises, one significant challenge endures; geographically uneven development. While China continues to move away from a historical over-reliance on coal fired power generation, rapid development of hydroelectricity—reflecting a broader shift to renewable generation—has increased substantially in the last decade. In recent years, as many large dams have become mired by a range of social, political and environmental concerns, small operations have proliferated rapidly. One valuable but insufficiently understood dimension linked to the rapid development of small operations is the rhetoric promoted by China’s governments that electrification catalyzes social change in underdeveloped rural areas, particularly those inhabited by ethnic minority groups. Consequently, small hydropower based electrification has become an integral component of initiatives promoting development and modernizing communities deemed “backward.” Due to the dearth of empirical field-based research, however, not enough is known about on the ground outcomes, specifically how electrification has influenced the everyday lives of residents in rural and remote ethnic minority communities. Through ethnographic field work conducted over a seven-year period in the Nu river valley of Yunnan Province, this chapter provides fresh insights into the ways small, rural ethnic minority communities navigate and negotiate processes linked to modernization resulting from development of small hydroelectric operations and electricity provision.

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