Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

An Analysis of the Dongba Arts and Culture in the Context of Tourism

Academic journal article European Journal of Tourism Research

An Analysis of the Dongba Arts and Culture in the Context of Tourism

Article excerpt

Goal and objectives of the dissertation


To provide a critical analysis of the relationship between the dongba culture and the tourism industry


1. To investigate the history, structure and current characteristics of tourism development in the ethnic area - Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China.

2. To assess the role of the dongba culture in the Naxi traditional mountain rural society, and the major influence of tourism development upon their way of life.

3. To examine the extent to which the dongba cultural elements, e.g. dongba, pictographs and handicrafts, figure as tourist assets in the tourism industry, and the process of commodification in relation to these cultural units.

4: To scrutinise the dongba culture in the process of developing the Naxi identity in the light of the emergence of tourism as a major factor in Lijiang.


The key feature of this study is ethnography, using extensive and detailed descriptions obtained from fieldwork, unpacking social phenomena, e.g. people's behaviour, values and beliefs in the context of a very specific setting. The primary data was collected from a seven-month-long fieldwork, conducted between September 2007 and April 2008, during which the researcher visited 42 Naxi families and attended 12 cultural and religious occasions with permission, such as family parties, festivals, social gatherings, farming activities and one dongba funeral. The researcher also recorded each unexpected event and incident generated from the people interviewed, the families stayed with and the villages observed. The fieldwork was mainly based in the urban centre of Lijiang, and three villages well-known for practicing the dongba culture. Apart from using participant observations, which was carried out in the field around the farmers, craftsmen, shopkeepers and dongba, whom the researcher has stayed with, the researcher also completed 67 in-depth interviews. The total interviewees were divided into two groups according to their educational levels, occupations and the knowledge of the dongba culture and tourism development in Lijiang. The interview questions of the groups were constituted of some open-ended and closed questions. Three of the questions asked in both groups were the same so that the researcher could compare the responses from the two groups.


Lijiang's tourism has contributed remarkably to the modification of the local urban/rural dichotomy. The expansion of tourism wealth is not entirely distributed according to the government's arrangements, but rather is greatly influenced by the very nature of the tourism industry itself. Whilst the government's main objectives focus on the need for economic regeneration of the area more generally, the primary concern of those who are seeking to maintain dongba culture is to reinforce and renew the dynamic communication between the Naxi and their mountain rural community. Meanwhile, both the local government and the Naxi farmers use tourism as a major force to define the content of the dongba culture divergently. The government sanitises the culture as an academic activity practised only in museums or institutes, ignoring the religious feature of the practice. In contrast, the farmers emphasise the very religious and ritual character of cultural practices as evidence of the authenticity of that culture. They embrace this religious practice as their most powerful ethnic distinctiveness in the context and in the face of tourism. This has had an effect on Naxi ethnic identity within the urban areas as well, leading to a revaluing and revitalising of Naxi tradition and culture. A wider Naxi ethnic group has now accepted the dongba culture as one of their most valuable cultural properties and an identical part of their ethnic identity.

Theoretical conclusions

Modernity and tourism

This study notices a flexible response to changes in the traditional order, loss of traditional culture or its commodification that triggered by tourism. …

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