China’s 55 officially recognized minority nationalities (shaoshu minzu), many of whom live on the social and economic periphery of the country, represent a special development problem for the government bureaucracy (Guan and Young 2002; Harrell 1995). Minority peoples figure prominently in all the studies represented in this special issue, ranging from the Manchu and Koreans in Northeast China to the Uygurs in the Northwest and the Hmong and Yi in the Southwest. Evidence of stereotyping, marginalization and discrimination emerges as minorities provide normative justification for targeted development while simultaneously suffering from a perceived incapacity to achieve successful development. Holyoak shows how minority attempts to use ritual may not be effective because of their perceived incapacity to take advantage of opportunity and inability to reciprocate.
As China’s development strategies become ever more intertwined with the international development industry, its discourse and practices increasingly reflect international values such as environmental protection and sustainable development. Young et al.’s analysis of a UNDP-funded biomass energy project illustrates how a mastery of the discourse of sustainability can bring credibility and green investment from abroad. Tilt and Xiao’s examination of the economic and social consequences of pollution control shows how the international discourse of sustainable development shapes the attitudes and actions of pollution enforcement officials.
Yet despite this recent espousal of international values and practices, local cultural norms continue to profoundly influence the course of development in China. Guldin and Dennis’s analysis of social assessment practices conducted by the World Bank in China reveals the extent to which these practices are the cultural and historical products of the West. In fact, Western concepts such as social assessment and community participation often meet with considerable resistance from local government officials, who view themselves as defenders of China against ravaging, neoliberal foreigners. Social connections (guanxi) with government officials and others in positions of power play a crucial role in attracting, designing and implementing development projects. This highlights the fact that development is a political action, set in a context of power relations and shaped by local cultural realities.