Heritage is a profoundly political field of practice. We draw on the case of Libo Karst, a component of the World Heritage listed South China Karst, to analyse the ways in which politics has permeated the work of heritage from the global to the local and from authorised regimes to community practices. The study is based on interviews conducted between 2013 and 2020 with Chinese officials and local residents to understand the experience of World Heritage nomination, inscription, conservation practice and benefits. The study considers three interlinked matters. Firstly, the Libo Karst World Heritage nomination as shaped by local policy, pragmatism and a desire to nurture pride. Secondly, nomination as a ‘natural site’ and the neglect of important cultural values, the consequence of which has been a significant impact on the cultures and experience of local residents. Thirdly, that local residents living within the boundaries of the World Heritage site have, in most instances, not benefited economically and socially and, since 2007, have born the burden of conservation actions and practices. We suggest that these matters of concern arise from the inadequacy of community engagement in developing a World Heritage nomination and implementing an equitable and participatory management system.