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
Although mainstream news outlets continue to focus on America’s Trump administration, tensions around North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, and the Israel-Palestinian and Syrian conflicts, over the holidays there were also developments in the spread and practice of Confucian philosophy. In particular, the way fundamentalists have tried to resist Western cultural traditions. From the mid-1990s, the middle class in China viewed Christmas as a trendy commercial holiday without any religious connotations. But, as professor of Chinese history and philosophy, Yang Chunmei, writes, in the past decade, the celebration of Christmas has become a source of social conflict.
In 2006, for example, a group of doctoral students jointly published an article titled ‘Our View of the Christmas Issue’ (我们对“耶诞节”问题的看法 (十博士生) calling for Chinese people to respect and keep Chinese culture pure by not celebrating Christmas. Since this article was released, online discussions over whether Chinese people should celebrate Christmas circulate the internet every December. While many Chinese celebrate Christmas without practicing Christianity, where many schools and kindergartens around the country allow students to hand out presents, far right lobbyists have argued that Christmas celebrations are ways of brainwashing young people to forget about their Chinese roots. Last year, Shenyang Pharmaceutical University in the province of Liaoning even banned Christmas festivals on campus as a way of building “cultural confidence” in order to “resist the corrosion of Western religious culture”.
Many lobbyists who see non-Chinese celebrations as the acceptance of ‘spiritual and cultural pollution’ identify as Confucianists or cultural revivalists. Increasingly, these sectors of society have become more influential as the government has invested in reviving traditional philosophies in an attempt to build national character, ensure social stability, and promote its foreign policy. Cultural revivalists have taken advantage of these efforts by becoming more vocal on the public stage to denounce Westernisation. In 2013, an interview with Mu Duosheng, an active anti-Christmas lobbyist and advocate of Confucian revivalism, was popularised on the internet when Mu made the comments that allowing foreign cultures to grow too rampant in China will severely damage the country’s “traditional cultural ecosystem and lead to the ‘Westernization’ of China.”
The fear that Western culture will turn Chinese people into ‘bananas’, that is, people whose skin looks “yellow” on the outside, but as “white” as the Anglo-Saxons who they seek to assimilate with, on the inside, can be traced back to the historical memory of the late Qing Dynasty. During this period, China was politically controlled and culturally penetrated by Western colonialists, and only managed to return to a stable position of power during its last 40 years of rejuvenation. The possibility that such events could happen again through the spread and consumption of Western culture means that even seemingly ‘harmless’ celebrations like Christmas represent a potential threat to Chinese culture and society.
However, these views have also been very difficult to promote in the current age of globalisation. The interconnection of societies and peoples around the world has led to a general acceptance of mainstream Western culture, especially in China. When the country opened itself to global trade during the 1970s, foreign and modern influences became common amongst young people. Furthermore, the promotion of atheistic education and modernisation has meant that religion and cultural traditions no longer form part of most Chinese people’s lives. Many demolished temples are no longer being restored, and idol processions are also in decline. As the old gatekeepers of traditional rituals die, many young people are leaving rural areas in search of work and education opportunities.
So, even though Confucianism and cultural revivalism is on the rise again in China, there are difficulties in promoting systems of thought that maintain outdated cultural values. Confucianism is often criticised for its strictly hierarchical and patriarchal ways of ordering society, especially for a younger generation who are growing up with foreign and modern influences in China’s increasingly global cities. Traditional customs will have to either adapt to these changing lifestyles, or the tension between past and present will continue to persist.
*Image retrieved from The Confucian Institute, The University of Western Australia.