Academic journal article Material Culture

A Landscape of Travel: The Work of Tourism in Rural Ethnic China

Academic journal article Material Culture

A Landscape of Travel: The Work of Tourism in Rural Ethnic China

Article excerpt

A Landscape of Travel: The Work of Tourism in Rural Ethnic China Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014. Xxviii + 294pp. Tables, illustrations, maps, notes, bibliography, and index. $30.00 (paperback), 978-0-295-99366-9.

Studies of tourism usually focus on tourists, but Jenny Chio, an anthropologist, explores a less commonly discussed side of the subject: how rural ethnic villagers in China "do tourism" by making their villages distinctive and attractive to others while maintaining a level of profitability that outweighs the temptation to migrate to a city in search of economic opportunity. She places village residents in a landscape of travel where visuality and mobility are key criteria. Visuality, as defined by Chio, is the external appearance of tourist elements such as buildings, native dress, and agricultural fields. Mobility is how the villagers acquire their knowledge and skills to make themselves, their villages, and surroundings worthy of tourism. Chios landscape of travel, therefore, encompasses physical alterations of the observable and social changes dealing with the politics of personal identity, leisure, and labor. Her landscape is a cultural medium, shaped by human intervention that is largely independent of the observer's intentions.

This book deals mainly with two case studies: Pingan, a Zhuang village in Guangxi Province, and Upper Jidao, a Miao village in Guizhou Province. She did extensive fieldwork in these two villages for one and a half years, starting in 2006. Pingan has been engaged in tourism since the late 1970s as part of the Guilin Longji Terraced Fields Scenic Area, a slice of China that is packed with tourist destinations. Most tourists to Pingan have been drawn there by the photographic possibilities of the surrounding rice terraces. To get tourists more engaged in the village itself, Pingan residents had to find ways to make their Zhuang ethnicity more visually appealing. Upper Jidao, on the other hand, is part of a tourist destination area centered on Miao ethnicity. Tourists overlooked visiting the small village until the World Bank in 2002 provided a seed grant for the production of a tourism master plan for the Bala River area of Guizhou that was then implemented by several international and national tourism agencies. Upper Jidao was a demonstration project within the Bala River area.

China is a highly structured state at all levels of governance. The state has identified and enumerated the ethnic minorities in a classification system that is necessarily imperfect and rather arbitrary. For example, the Miao ethnic "group" is widely scattered geographically and Miao members speak different languages. The official list of 56 ethnic groups (including the majority, Han), nevertheless has become one of the lynchpins of central planning. The 18h Five Year Plan (2006-10) was accompanied by the year of "China Rural Tourism." Chinese officials sought to develop rural areas in order to slow rural-to-urban migration and provide leisure outlets for city dwellers. In chapter two, Chio discusses the "New Socialist Countryside" that was to foster peasant family happiness (nongjia /

Chio devotes the third chapter to migrants and migration. Whereas the Chinese government prefers that the peasants remain in the village, hundreds of millions have left for employment in big cities. The author examines how the migrants' ethnic identity is affected and how they came to view their villages' efforts to attract tourists. In the course of interviewing and filming five returned migrants, she finds that they became more knowledgeable about what services tourists want and how best to deliver them. …

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