During recent decades, north-east China, north China and north-west China, collectively referred to as the country's ‘three northern regions’ (sanbei diqu, Figure 11.1), 1 have become notorious for the degradation of their drylands. 2 This includes serious soil erosion from wind and water, salinisation, shrinking water resources, sand drift and dust storms, extensively covered in the media and scholarship under the catch-all term desertification (huangmohua) 3 (Cao 2008, 1827–8; Sun et al. 2014, 154–5). From the late 1970s onwards, scientists and scholars from China and abroad have published numerous case studies, which reveal to what extent these land degradation processes have accelerated since the 1950s. With few exceptions, the greatest share of blame has been allocated to a succession of ill-conceived and poorly managed land-use policies mainly in conjunction with the mass campaigns of the so-called Maoist era, but also increasingly associated with the pursuit of rapid economic growth during the first decades of reform (Smil 1984; Shapiro 2001; Economy 2002; Williams 2002; Jiang 2005; Yeh 2015, 620–3). Climate change is expected to have compounding effects on dryland degradation in the future (Sun et al. 2014).