Humans and nature can resemble and learn from each other. In Confucianism, the fluid and reflective nature of water provides a model for the various ways of being. The way that water nourishes everything which is in it, fearlessly seeks out the lowest spots to fill them, and has the capacity to level itself no matter where it is found, are all lessons for humans in their ability to imitate water. The appropriate phrase to describe this relationship is “as if”. Humans are not water, but they are akin to it, which is why meditating on it draws us closer to balance and harmony. To be “as if” water is to embody the principle of wu-wei or doing nothing, in an effort to participate in a kind of creative emptiness. This interpretation of wu-wei differs in the later forms of Daoism, where non-action was hardened into a strategic doctrine for effective rule. In this way, the agenda of wu-wei was no longer about finding stillness and peace and to “be like”, but about calculatingly managing others as a way of indirectly exerting one’s power and influence.
The word authentic comes from the Medieval Latin authenticus and Greek authentikos, meaning “original, genuine, principal”, from authentes or “acting on one’s own authority”. It derives from the term autos or “self, of oneself (independently)” and hentes meaning “being”, and the modern use of authentic implies that to be authentic, the contents in question should correspond to facts. In other words, authenticity refers to trustworthiness, reliability and consistency. An authentic document, for example, is understood to be genuine and original, or not a fake or copy, while authentic words are understood to come from the heart. Feelings and words should be aligned if they are to be considered authentic. Thus, a thing is authentic if it is what it professes to be. However, the question of authenticity becomes more complicated when authenticity becomes a characteristic attributed to human beings. After all, what does it mean to be truly autos-hentes or one’s own being? And is it even possible to truly represent oneself genuinely?
According to Varga (2020), although being oneself is somewhat inescapable, since whenever you make a choice or act, it is you who is making that choice or act, many of our thoughts, decisions and actions are not really are own and so they cannot genuinely express who we are. The issue here is whether we can ever be authentic in our day-to-day life in spite of influences that come from our families, friends, government, education, ideological affiliations, and even the language that we speak, which can affect the way that we think. If we are simply made up of these amalgam of influences, it would mean that our sense of self could not have existed without society. This argument goes so far as to make the metaphysical claim that our expressive self is only real because we as a society have made it real. So once we imagine it and give it a name and role, we cause it to be real. Consider the following dilemma: as far as we know, ‘Jennifer’ is a daughter, student, and friend. She is a Christian, an Australian, and only speaks English. We know of Jennifer as a kind girl. She was taught to express herself politely and has never in our presence made a condescending mark towards anyone. Do all these things point to an authentic Jennifer (where an authentic Jennifer would be one who acts in a way that reinforces her status as a kind, Christian friend and daughter), or is an authentic Jennifer the Jennifer beyond the labels and concepts, that is, the human that people happen to refer to by ‘Jennifer’? We will return to the Jennifer dilemma later.
Studies of contemporary Western culture are informed by conceptions of human agency, which emphasize individuality as the principal theme of personhood. Although the prevailing myth of individualism is that in eighteenth-century Europe, a few courageous men of reason fought against religious repression to set the individual free to find and express his authentic self, the development of individualism was gradual and much more complex than this myth suggests. The Enlightenment movement’s demand for liberty re-defined human beings as individual entities rather than as role-bearers in the system of social relations. People slowly gained an increasing awareness of what Charles Taylor (1989) refers to as “inwardness” or “internal space”, where the authentic self can be separated from public performance and perception. Furthermore, the growth of commerce created an expanding middle class of merchants, well-off farmers and urban craftsmen who advocated for private property and individual wealth accumulation (Foley, 2017). Underlying these developments was Christianity’s revolutionary idea: “we are all equal because we are all brothers” (Puyol, 2019). Although this concept of fraternity promised that every individual human being (whether child, woman, foreigner, poor, disabled, non-Christian, etc.) was equal in the eyes of God, fraternity did not translate into political equality because Christian equality was about the equal worth of souls and not the equal rights of men on earth. By the nineteenth century, these commercial, intellectual and religious movements and ideas promoted individualism and led to the development of capitalist entrepreneurism and Romantic individualism, where in the latter, the quest to find an authentic self translated into rejecting materialism and society and living solitarily in nature. A similar albeit mass version of Romantic individualism occurred in the 1960s, which Taylor (1998) called “an individuating revolution”. 1960s global youth culture produced expressive individualism, which rejected conformity and authority in order to discover or find your ‘true self’. The revolution promoted self-expression, equality and sensuality, but rather than simply being an excuse for self-indulgent hippyism (which 1960s youth culture is usually accused of), it was a way of shifting from the systems and times that suppressed individuality and creativity, resulting in the emergence of the Age of Authenticity.
Critics argue that the pursuit of authenticity and individualism has resulted in cultural decline as the preoccupation on one’s own feelings and attitudes is anti-social and destroys altruism and compassion towards others and community. Christopher Lasch (1979) has claimed that there are similarities between authenticity and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which are both characterized by self-indulgence and a lack of empathy. For Bloom (1987), the preoccupation with authenticity has made the minds of the youth “narrower and flatter” (p. 61), while Bell (1976) argues that the traditional economic processes, “based on a moral system of reward rooted in Protestant sanctification of work” (p. 38), have lost their legitimacy and are replaced by hedonism and the search for extreme experience or “kicks” and “highs”. The obsession with authenticity has also led to a time where we are losing our sense of truth and reality. Criticism of public institutions has gone so far as to legitimize alternative ways of knowing, where conspiracy theories and alternative medicine, schooling and journalism are all part of the larger conversation that characterizes the era of post-truth that we currently live in. On the other hand, as Watts (2019) states, there is a kind of nobility in the pursuit of authenticity. It is now common to tell children to follow their dreams and pursue their passions rather than stick to a dreary job all their lives that we believe would at odds with their true selves. There is also a kind of desperation to have authenticity around us, from our expectations of honesty and transparency in our closest relationships to how our leaders present themselves, for there is “nothing more despicable than a person who isn’t genuine…who betrays their feelings in order to save face.” There is also a tendency in Western society to avoid the monotonous nature of ritual, “which keeps us chained to the past.” (Watts, 2019). Meanwhile, the romanticisation of romantic love has stayed with us because it feels spontaneous and unmediated, which shows how authenticity has turned into the new cultural currency.
The emphasis on authenticity and transparency in Western culture sits well with the philosophical school of Existentialism. Existentialism arose with the collapse of the idea that philosophy itself can provide substantive norms and rules for existing by specifying particular ways of living, while authenticity was advocated as the approach where I can engage in my life as my own (Crowell, 2020). The need to live an authentic life to live meaningfully adds another important layer in moral evaluations. For instance, by keeping my promise, I act in accordance to a duty to others, and if I keep acting so because it is my duty, than according to Kant, I am acting morally because I act for the sake of duty. But, from the existentialist perspective, by simply keeping my promise out of duty’s sake makes the moral act of promise keeping inauthentic because I am only keeping the promise because I believe it is required and expected of moral people to do so. To keep my promise authentically, I need to take ownership of this choice and commit myself to the act of keeping my promise because it is my own decision and action, and not because it is socially or morally required of me. Only then can I succeed in being myself authentically. By choosing to do things on my own account, I recover myself from being alienated and absorbed into the anonymous self that uncritically engages in the world. Thus, there is a kind of integrity in acting authentically: I can either occupy a role and time that was given to me by others and drift in and out of these roles while feeling separated from myself, or I can autonomously commit myself and become whatever I choose.
In classical China, there was a similar prevailing interest in how to live an authentic life. The Daoist school, for example, actively rejected the Confucian idea that the good life comes from embodying traditional social norms and rites and instead focused on taking care of one’s own interest. Harisson (2013) refers to this as the ethical egoist argument, where the right thing to do is to pursue one’s own interests and maximize one’s own good. Because, it is argued, we are naturally inclined to prioritize our own interests, it follows that following societal ethical recommendations about doing the right thing distorts our selfish nature and therefore compromises our authentic selves. But, whereas the Confucian scholar Xunzi, who also recognized human selfish nature, argued that it is up to moral education and rigorous practice of rites to correct human behavior, the Daoist Yang Zhu claimed that to live an ethical life, we must maintain what is genuine in our lives by avoiding artificial moral and social obligations. So, rather than finding the good life in appropriate social relationships and roles, we should actively retreat from our social life and get rid of material goods and power. Thus, the best life can be can be lived away from society and in harmony with the natural flow of Dao (the Way). An authentic life can be found in the natural world, beside rivers and mountains, which is more conducive to living authentically, that is, as our true selves stripped from others’ expectations and from our artificial social roles.
So, there are various ways of answering the Jennifer dilemma. For the Confucians, Jennifer’s authentic self comes from how others see her and the roles she is expected to play in her social relationships. Jennifer is only Jennifer because she is a daughter to her mother, an Australian national, and a Christian follower. She becomes more herself the more she honorably practices these roles and carries out the appropriate rites and rituals associated with her identity. Existentialists would argue that she is only truly Jennifer if she autonomously adopts her role as daughter, Christian, etc. as her own. If she is simply following these roles mindlessly because others expect her to, then she is harming her authentic self and will never find the satisfaction of taking control over her own existence. Finally, the ethical egoist Daoists would claim that an authentic Jennifer can only be found if she rejects her social roles and obligations as daughter, Australian citizen, Christian. Only once she retreats from the socially constructed ‘Jennifer’ can the real, authentic Jennifer live in harmony and simplicity.
The Confucian texts show us that we can learn from water, especially still water because the stillness of water provides us with a mirror to reflect on the nature of reality, and in this reflection, we have the opportunity to embody stillness and calmness of mind. The importance of water and stillness highlights the importance of wu-wei, the art of doing nothing. Translated as effortless action, skilled inactivity, or action through non-action, wu-wei calls for passivity, quietude, and the absence of contentiousness in order to smoothly accommodate the other. Such action takes discipline and strength, much like how a professional swimmer effortlessly glides across the water. Thus, rather than interpreting wu-wei as a strategy to control and influence others indirectly, wu-wei can literally mean doing nothing, waiting, and reflecting as still water.
In Chinese philosophy, there is always an opportunity to learn from the ordinary and the everyday. The things we see in our day to day lives can teach us lessons about reality, nature, and about ourselves. That is why the ordinariness of water became important in the Confucian tradition. The different forms of water that came from China’s great rivers, streams and dams influenced neo-Confucian thinkers from the Song Dynasty to think about the idea of the life force (qi). Qi here refers to a kind of life force that is akin to the flow of water in that it springs forth in youth, wanes in old age, and should be controlled and channelled, much like irrigated water. Mencius uses the model of flooding water to explain how qi fills the body. Allowing a free-flowing qi can unite rightness and the Way, while cutting yourself off from rightness can deprive the life force and starve the heart. To achieve a harmonious balance in the mind and body involves a kind of internal struggle of self-discipline and self-examination, which was considered a difficult yet essential life practice.
We are back! Every week, we will post quotes from the texts of the main philosophical traditions of ancient China, which include Legalism, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Mohism. Each of these philosophies has individually and collectively influenced China’s governance, family and social structure, communications, arts, and contemporary philosophy and science.
Several questions are central to the teachings and debates that make up China’s philosophical schools, such as the issue of how to sustain order (zhi) or harmony (he)? To what degree should we rely on institutions? Is leadership crucial to governance? Is there a human nature? What sorts of roles, relationships, or hierarchies should structure our societies and should we allow these structures to be challenged?
Understanding the unique interplay between the main traditions provides an important perspective into ancient and modern Chinese society, and can help us understand China’s future trajectory.
In the fourth episode of the broadcast, Professor Mortley examines two moral dilemmas about sons betraying fathers in the interests of justice, one from Plato’s Euthyphro, and the other from Confucius’ Analects. Traditionally, Chinese culture emphasises filial piety or respect where there is an obligation to be reverent to one’s parents and ancestors.
Although ideally, a harmonisation of all principles should be achieved where justice, care for others, and filial respect are valued, in the Confucian dilemma, there a greater truth in obligation to family so it is preferred that the son remains loyal to his father than to his community.
In the third episode of the Confucian Way, Professor Mortley discusses the subversiveness of Confucianism, that is, the way Confucius directly critiques society and challenges the status quo. However, in light of the Chinese Communist Party’s endorsement of Confucianism in recent years, Professor Mortley asks whether Confucianism can maintain its critical thought while being embraced by the Chinese State and the Communist Party.
A common misconception in mainstream texts and media is the idea that Confucianism has always been a doctrine for the ruling class whereas Buddhism and Daoism appeal to the “ignorant masses” (Welch & Seidel, 1979, p. 1). However, all three indigenous philosophies have contributed to shaping Chinese culture which views the universe as a harmonious and inter-related whole. While Confucianism puts emphasis on morality and how people should maintain proper relationships to achieve an ideal state of harmony (or ‘harmonisation’ depending on the translation of he, 和), Daoism is more individualistic and mystical, relying on instinct and consciousness rather than rules to govern social conduct (Jing, 2008).
The name daojia, 道家 or “school of the dao” was created by the historian Sima Tan in the text, Shi ji (“Records of the Historian”), which was written in the 2nd century BCE and later completed by his son, Sima Qian. According to Sima Qian’s classification (liujia zhi yaozhi, 六家之要指), the Daoists are one of the Six Schools in Ancient China, which also include the Confucians, the Mohists, the Legalists, the Logicians and the Yin-Yang school (or school of Naturalists). The classification of Daoism as a single school meant that historians compiled a list of texts such as the Laozi, 老子 and Zhuangzi, 莊子 of the pre-Han period that shared similar views on themes related to cosmology and ontology. Some of these themes include discussing ‘the Way’ (dao, 道, lit. “path”) as the ultimate metaphysical force in the cosmos, and ‘wu’ (無, “nothingness” or “nonbeing”), as a state that is complementary to being rather than meaning non-existence. Through the idea of wu, Daoists went one step further than the Greeks by expanding the traditional definition of ontology as examining the ‘being’ or existence of a human being by dealing with the concept of nothingness. This resulted in heated debates during the 3rdand 4thcenturies over whether things in the world were born from nonbeing or being (Chai, 2012). The eventual consensus in the Daoist school was that dao gives birth to both nonbeing and being and so, dao itself must be beyond the sphere of existence and non-existence.
Once institutionalised, the experts and practitioners of Daoism began to promote self-cultivation practices or “techniques of the Way” (dao shu, 道術), which would help individuals realise the daoand live a more harmonious life. While some of these techniques included adopting a sceptical mind and finding meaning in indirect, non-argumentative writing, often in the form of poetry and parable (Hansen, 2007), the political implication of Daoist thought was its opposition to authority, government, and coercion. As Loy (1985)noted, the Daoist concept of “spontaneity” (or wu-wei, 无为, lit. “without exertion”) was contrasted to the Confucian practice of obediently following teachers and traditions. For the Daoists, rules and social conventions restrained individuals from expressing their true nature, while natural movement was a way of promoting freedom and egalitarianism. Hansen (2007) argues that from a Confucian perspective, the rejection of order through authority and rulers was anarchist since the role of government was to promote moral character, whether by education, attraction or force.
However, whether this is a correct understanding of Daoism is debatable. For instance, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy John Clarke (1983) points out that it has become commonplace to identify Daoism and anarchism in political discussions, and Andrew Vincent (1992) adds that “it is also asserted that anarchist themes are to be found within ancient Chinese texts like the Tao te Ching [Daodejing]” (p. 116). But for Feldt (2010), these claims have often been made in passing or without critical engagement. The Zhuangzi also tends to be overcited when linking Daoism to anarchism because it is one of the only pre-Qin philosophical classics that does not make normative political claims. Whereas other Daoist texts like the Daodejing (also called the Laozi) provide theories for rulership and legitimate political power, where the ideal government would exert a minimum amount of interference over individuals (Ames, 1983), the Zhuangzi is silent on political issues and suggests that people should stay away from politics and any external, dominating powers (D’Ambrosio, 2018). Since the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, which was dominated by a Bolshevik-style state-party system, anarchist activity and Daoist thought have been isolated and marginalised in the Chinese radicalism movement. Anarchism in China was also more associated with Buddhism because of the large number of Buddhist monks joining the Guangdong anarchist movement in the early 1920s (Dirlik, 2012).
Chinese anarchist visions were largely influenced by the writings of Russian activist and revolutionary Peter Kropotkin (1901), who put forward a version of ‘socialist anarchy’ that called for the abolition of individual property and the emancipation of the individual from the State, which was thought to maintain and reproduce conditions of economic slavery. Although some Maoist policies that integrated agriculture and industry were in line with the anarchist movement’s goals of setting up a more equal society, the emergence of state-based and armed groups such as the Communist Party and the Kuomintang meant that the Chinese anarchist community quickly lost its influence amongst the political elite (Dirlik, 2012). In its historical context, Anarchia, meaning the absence of government in Ancient Greek (coming from the word an-arkhíaor “not authority”), is about organizing society without government or coercion. Mainstream anarchist movements are opposed to states, armies, slavery, the wages system, prisons, all forms of capitalism, bureaucracy, patriarchy, matriarchy, monarchy, oligarchy, and intimidation by gangsters (Rooum, 1995). Anarchism is not perfect freedom in that people are not universally assumed to be altruistic or good. Rather, the movement is based on the belief that although humans are imperfect and can be unpredictable, a non-coercing and non-authoritarian way of organizing society is ethically worth striving for. In other words, anarchism seeks to offer a plausible alternative to current systems of governance where, it is argued, modern-day forms of slavery and brutality increase inequalities and reduce individual opportunity. It should be noted that when anarchism was applied to China, the anarchists did not insist on an anarchism with Chinese characteristics, but tried to apply universal anarchist principles to China’s political situation.
While there are some similarities between anarchist beliefs and Daoist principles, there are also fundamental differences. For example, although both Daoism and anarchism see freedom of the individual as a crucial aspect to human relations and existence, the meaning of freedom in anarchism is socio-political, where an ideal society would be free from oppression and authority, whereas the Daoist freedom is based on metaphysics. In the Daodejing (道德經), it is written that humans should have the freedom to cultivate their natural and simple character that originally comes from the dao. For instance, in chapters 8 and 9 the ideal human condition is described as natural governing “without desire which is like the softness of water that penetrates through hard rocks. His work is of talent like the free flow of water. His movement is of right timing like water that flows smoothly. A virtuous person never forces his way and hence will not make faults.” In that case, the cultivation of the self involves action without force. An individual is free in their creativity and accessing this freedom means not holding on to things such as desire and success. While some writers appeal to the noncoercive and nonauthoritarian conception of wu-weias one of the key links between Daoism and anarchism, there are various ways of translating wu-wei. Roger Ames and David Hall (1983) use the term “noncoercion”, but Ames (1994) also generalised the meaning through the terms “noncoercive activity”, “nonaction”, “doing nothing”, and “acting naturally”. D.C. Lau (1963) uses “nonaction”, while Edward Slingerland (2003) refers to wu-wei as “effortless action”. The different translations can have different meanings when discussing political authority. For example, a government that “does nothing” or is non-active seems like an appeal to anarchism, whereas governing through “noncoercive activity” or natural action is to voluntarily govern without relying on force. But the authority would still remain. Thus, Wu-wei is not simply the lack of authority or action. In chapter 43 of the Daodejing, the Sage is advised to do nothing (with a purpose), and in chapter 48 it is stated that a person should arrive at the point of non-action where “there is nothing which he does not do.” Thus, there is still activity, intention, and spontaneity in the meaning of wu-wei as the dao can only be expressed and realised beyond actions and words.
Finally, at no point does Daoism outright reject a ruling authority or the state. This is because, as Xiao Gongquan (1979) states, “what Lao Tzu attacked was not government in and of itself, but was any kind of government which did not conform to “Taoistic” standards” (p. 299). In other words, it is believed that society should be governed by a sage-ruler that follows the standards and spontaneous workings of the dao, which involves allowing citizens to realise their individual freedoms by not applying an excess of laws. In chapter 57 of the Daodejing, Lao Tzu says “Govern the state by being straightforward; wage war by being crafty; but win the empire by not being meddlesome…Hence the sage says, I take no action and the people are transformed of themselves”. Here Lao Tzu puts forward the idea that the state should be non-intrusive with minimal or no taxation and laws so that people can live without unnecessary competition or strife. For Robert Eno (1990), Confucius himself adopted such as Daoist attitude as his political theory was a justification for staying away from government at least until a sage would become a proper ruler. The development of a rule-based, authoritarian Confucianism would later contrast Daoism’s natural spontaneity and scepticism to social control, but to equate Daoism with Western anarchism is to ignore the cultural and historical differences in how both schools of thought developed and influenced Chinese society.
It should be noted that while traditional Confucianism spoke more of virtuous rulers teaching their citizens about correct conduct and moral behaviour, by the early Ming dynasty emperors began adopting an official neo-Confucian theory of foreign policy that allowed for the legitimate use of force (see Feng Zhang, “Confucian Foreign Policy Traditions in Chinese History,” The Chinese Journal of International Politics8 (2): 2015, p. 197-218. https://doi.org/10.1093/cjip/pov004).
Although mass tourism is one of the most lucrative industries in the world due to the growing competition between destinations, and the major source of foreign exchange earnings that tourism gives to countries, increasingly critics have pointed to tourism’s negative social, economic, cultural, and environmental impacts. For example, by overusing scarce water and land resources and failing to regulate rapid population growth in already congested areas, locals in Venice and Barcelona have held anti-tourist protests in the past years calling for a cap on tourist numbers (Kettle, The Guardian, 2017). This has led to a call for alternative forms of tourism such as ‘cultural tourism’. As Scott (1997) noted, the reason for this shift from mass to cultural tourism is that capitalism has moved into a phase “in which the cultural forms and meanings of its outputs become critical if not dominating elements of productive strategy” (p. 323). In other words, the commodification of culture’s material and symbolic resources provides a highly mobile and arguably infinite form of capital supply.
On the one hand, this model can be considered to be attractive to some local communities. Van der duim, Peters, and Akama’s (2005) study on cultural tourism in African communities reveals that host communities cannot always be seen as victims to predetermined global development processes of mass tourism. Through the initiation of various cultural tourism activities, groups like the Maasai people in Kenya and Tanzania have acted as agents with power to influence tourism projects that have become a key source of livelihood for their communities. These observations reveal that the power dynamics of cultural tourism are not a one-way flow as they often are with mass tourism, and shared power dynamic is reflected by the negotiations that often take place between tour guides and local representatives, as well as between tourists and locals when it comes to buying souvenirs or hosting tourist families.
For governments too, the cultural tourism model is an attractive alternative to the negative reputation and impact of mass tourism since cultural tourism can easily be tied to the idea of a national ‘brand’. In India, cultural tourism was the main push behind the rise of the tourism sector, with the promotion of India as a land of ancient history and culture in the 2002 Incredible India!campaign. Since launching the campaign, India improved its travel and tourism competitiveness by increasing its position from 65thof 40thin The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017 (World Economic Forum, 2017, p. 4). However, as Reena Gupta (2018) noted in her analysis of the Incredible India!campaign, the use of cultural tourism as national branding has become more of a reflection of an imagined identity rather than reality itself. In some of the most recent Incredible India!advertisements, Indians are not fully present on screen as when they are shown, they mostly represent unknown characters whose purpose is to welcome and dance for the western woman at the centre of the tourist story. Therefore, even in the cultural tourist setting where a place’s history, landscape, and people should take centre stage, ethnicity and culture is presented as the “seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture” (hooks, 1992, p. 424). In other words, the cultures that are being shown and projected are not neutral: they are related to how governments and the global tourist market construct and understand a place, and the packaging of this is aimed towards a particular western (but increasingly, growing middle class, eastern) market.
This raises the question about who owns and is able to access culture. In his analysis on cultural politics and tourism, Jim Butcher (2005) states that museums, galleries, and heritage sites are often “regulated through state culture policy, policy that is very much the product of a wider contested cultural politics” (p. 21). This contestation plays out between marginalised and dominant groups in society, and it is usually the case where the dominated group either directly or indirectly fights against or accepts the dominant group’s historical narrative as the natural state of the world. For instance, in Western Europe, the history of state socialism has been externalised to the current neo-liberal socio-economic model, where most museums in former Soviet countries have been revamped to the extent that the nuances (and sometimes positive experiences) of life under communism are rarely shown (Molden, 2016, p. 126). Although pro-communist, pro-Soviet groups still exist throughout Europe, especially in Eastern European countries, it is rare that the positive experiences of Soviet times will be shared in official cultural tourism sites.
In that case, there is always a connection between cultural experience and the structural context of power relations, especially between those who want to maintain or change the dominant cultural framework and those that just passively live in it. The dominant group establishes this reality through the creation of a distinct language and symbolic imagery that legitimizes the mainstream cultural framework which cultural tourism programs operate in. With India, the fantasy created by the ministry of tourism and culture is that Westerners and upper-class Indians, particularly the diaspora, can consume Indian things without needing to deal with the agency and potential resistance from working-class Indian people, who are increasingly being overworked (Gill, 2018). This represents a form of “internal orientalism” since Indians themselves depict their country as “a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences” (Said, 1970, p. 9) within the framework of tourist capitalism.
In China, a similar phenomenon is occurring. The celebration and promotion of China’s “Confucian renaissance” is marked by the emergence of the upscale Confucian-themed Nishan Akademia hotel in Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius. Opened in 2016, guests can dress up in traditional Hanfu clothing from the Han dynasty, similar to those featured in Chinese television dramas. Once robed, activities offered to the guests include practicing calligraphy, playing traditional games including touhou, and visiting the Confucius museum. Accommodation at Nishan Akademia includes 47 stand-alone houses, some of which cost more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,440) a night (Yau, SCMP, 2018). These representations, marketed at wealthy Chinese and Western audiences, show a very uncritical, uncontroversial side of Confucianism that fits properly into the (national) master narrative of China’s history and culture.
Beyond Shandong province, China’s cultural tourism is also marketed around the commodification of various “exotic” minority (minzu) cultures. The term minzu, roughly translated as minority or ethnic group, is a political classification that includes the Han Chinese majority and the 55 officially recognised ethnic minority groups throughout China. While all these groups are defined by a common language, territory, and economy, belonging to the greater category of zhonghua minzu (pan-Chinese national identity), non-Han ethnic minorities are both the object of exoticism and fear, which makes them suitable marketable products for cultural tourism. Swain (1990) writes that most of China’s minority groups live in regions that have important natural resources and are on strategic international borders, and that domestic tourists are encouraged to visit these areas for the scenery and to observe the ‘curious’ indigenous people. A China Reconstructs(May 1988) article describes the difference in park accommodations in Tibet between the three state guest houses and the small inns run by Tibetan families, where the inns facilities are described as “limited, but the experience is unique”. Indigenous groups in these areas often become a generic category, marked only by their distinct traditional clothes. In Hainan island, where the centre is being developed for cultural tourism, hotels, minority restaurants, and tours into Wuzhi mountain minority villages feature minority women as hostesses for guests, which is part of the larger “primitive” package that tourists are promised. In the article, “Hawaii of the Other” (Bier, 1998), a researcher is quoted as saying that development in Hainan Island is for show. Away from the tourist sites, “the central government is not providing money to improve standards of living”. A similar finding was also noted by associate professor Trine Brox (2017), who conducted a mixed qualitative and quantitative study on the biggest minzumarket in Chengdu and found that although sold as Tibetan cultural products, many of the shops sold goods not made in Tibet or by Tibetans and most of the shops were not run by Tibetans themselves.
There is also a sexual and gendered factor in China’s cultural tourism. In many mass media images, indigenous girls and women appear next to or communing with animals, picking fruits, and standing near waterfalls and streams. Their carefree nature is depicted by them laughing and they are dressed in decorative costumes that help identify them with their nationality. While the elaborateness of their clothing is associated with adulthood, these women are often featured with physical features of a child, linking nativity to innocence and naivety. The effect is that these women are infantilized and made to be the object of fascination. In the article Gender and Internal Orientalism in China, Schein (1997) highlights that these imaginings made minority women a powerful attraction. Also associated with repulsion and fear along with desire, it was not uncommon to be told by a Chinese urbanite that women “there” do not cover their breasts, or that young indigenous people engage in “socially sanctioned orgies” (p. 77). The idea is that the eroticised ‘other’ is placed into the social imaginary as being both dangerous and alluring, especially for upper-class city people.
Although there can be a difference between mass tourism from other, most focused forms of tourism such as cultural tourism – which can promote economic development for indigenous groups if these groups are in charge of the decision-making and owning the processes of promoting cultural continuity (Swain, 1990) – in China, the unequal power dynamics between ethnic groups, the central government, and tourist capitalism creates a rather complex picture. It is the state which defines who and what constitutes an ethnic group and the tourist market that defines who is or will be an upcoming cultural commodity. While there are definite economic benefits in promoting cultural tourism, including stimulating the national economy and attracting foreign capital, it is questionable whether these profits flow back into the ethnic communities whose cultural products are being marketed, and whether the cultural picture that is being packaged for tourists is authentic or part of the imagined cultural tourism experience.
By Cindy Minarova-Banjac