Ethnic tourism in rural Guizhou; sense of place and the commerce of authenticity1
Tim Oakes
In Tourism, Ethnicity, and the State in Asian and Pacific Societies, eds. M. Picard, and R. Wood
     (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997), 35-70.


In a recent review of scholarship on the relationship between tourism, culture, and development, Robert Wood (1993, 48) posed the question: "Do the processes of modernization and development necessarily entail the 'passing' of the 'traditional' societies of Asia, Africa, and Latin American and a global process of cultural homogenization in the direction of the West?" Countering the assumption--most often heard among Western tourists themselves--that tourists are the "shock troops" of Western modernity as it steamrolls its way across the world's remaining pockets of cultural diversity, Wood argues that tourism is often appropriated by locals in their symbolic constructions of culture, tradition, and identity. As he goes on to explain, this represents an important shift in tourism studies, in which tourism is being conceptualized not as an outside force which "flattens" local culture, but as a dynamic social ingredient of that culture itself. Wood's question can also be asked in geographical terms: does modernization necessarily result in a placeless landscape, where place-based community identities once thrived? In these terms, some writers have noted that tourism can destroy an authentic sense of place, alienating people from an identity with the landscape in which they live (for example, Relph 1976, 117). Britton (1991,465-466) noted that the "commodification of place" associated with tourism, "generates a 'flatness' where depth of appreciation, understanding, and especially meaning, is replaced with a new kind of superficiality in the most literal sense: a loss of depth of feeling, meaning or understanding is compensated for with transitory exhilaration, glitter, particular kinds of euphoria, and intensities of feelings." While this may not necessarily lead to "cultural homogenization in the direction of the West," Britton clearly assumes a loss of authentic place identity associated with commercial tourism development.

This chapter suggests that the process of commercial and cultural integration associated with tourism does not necessarily break down a place-based sense of identity, or render it "flat" and inauthentic, but rather becomes an important factor in the on-going construction of place identity. Place-based identity, it is argued here, is built according to a broader set of political, economic, and cultural processes, rather than in relative isolation from those processes. In many places in Asia, tourism has rapidly become a powerful example of these broader processes, injecting a new set of conditions into local expressions of identity and sense of place. Even on the frontiers of tourism in Asia, locals have quickly learned to appropriate the tourist experience in their claims of place identity. This is not so much because tourism is such a powerful social and cultural force, but rather because local actors have always been conditioned by broader historical processes--such as commercial trade, military campaigns, state revenue collection or political campaigns, and foreign missionaries--in constructing their senses of place.

To support these claims, I will draw on the experience of two ethnic tourist villages in China's southwestern province of Guizhou. Both sites, situated deep in the mountains of Guizhou's Qiandongnan autonomous prefecture, have only recently been opened to international tourism and in 1994 received fewer than 35 foreign tour groups between the two of them. Yet already, ethnic tourism has become an important factor in the ways locals express who they are and the kind of place they live in. This is so, I argue, because villagers are accustomed to carving a space of identity within the broader political-economy in which they live. In China, that political-economic context is overwhelmingly defined by the state. In this case, the state is the sole purveyor of tourism development. State-sponsored ethnic tourism brings together two very different processes which have combined to influence local place identity in significant ways. One is the process of commercial economic and social integration inherent in tourism development. The other involves state policies regarding ethnic minority culture and its preservation, in which ethnic identity becomes officially associated with certain standardized cultural forms and unambiguous symbolic markers. These state-mediated processes provide much of the "raw material"--along with factors historically specific to the places themselves--which locals in these villages use to claim a distinct place identity. Even as tourism introduces processes which increasingly link villagers to the outside world, threatening to dislocate and alienate them, it simultaneously allows them to continue the on-going redefinition of place in new terms. It is the Chinese state which clearly arbitrates this dynamic relationship between tourism, development, and place identity.

Before discussing each village specifically, it is important to sketch out the broader historical and geographical processes which have conditioned local place identity. These processes can be summarized as: historical conflicts and rebellions as direct administration was asserted over a frontier region, a state-sponsored project of ethnic minority identification in which ethnicity is defined according to cultural distance from the Han Chinese, and a commercial ethnic tourist industry driven by the ideal of cultural authenticity. Because of the important ways each of these three processes has conditioned the prevailing sense of place in each village, a considerable portion of the chapter is devoted to their analysis.

Frontier Geography and History

Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture occupies the southeastern corner of Guizhou (see Figure 1). Unlike the rest of the province, Qiandongnan is not a karst landscape of eroded limestone mounds, but rather a rumpled mass of folded clastic mountains incised by deep river valleys. While the soils are generally the most fertile in the province, and rainfall is abundant and relatively consistent from year to year, the vertical terrain has always made agriculture difficult. The mountains, which reach their peak at the 2,178 meter summit of Leigongshan, are locally known as the Miaoling, and form the watershed dividing the drainages of the Changjiang (Yangtse) and Zhujiang (Pearl) rivers. Thus straddling the frontier between China's two most important traditional transportation networks, the region has historically been a remote hinterland to the downstream civilizations in Hunan and Guangxi, and a refuge for those who refused to assimilate as Han Chinese culture began to predominate in the valleys, plains, and along the waterways of southern China. Chinese migration into the region did occur, though, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries, along the two primary waterways draining the region: the Qingshui and Duliu rivers. The trading ports which sprang up along these rivers became Han Chinese enclaves with the rest of the region dominated by tribespeople, commonly referred to by the Chinese as Miao, "sprouts" or "weeds," the uncivilized aboriginals.

As early as the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), the Chinese government maintained a policy of indirect rule in the empire's frontier regions. This became formalized as the tusi system of native chieftainship, in which local chiefs were invested with hereditary titles, allowed to collect their own taxes, and keep their own armies. In exchange, most tusi paid a nominal land tax to the government. By the late Ming (1368-1644), however, the government regarded the tusi system as more a source of instability and disorder than anything, and began eradicating tusi leaders and implementing direct administration. This policy, known as gai tu gui liu, was accompanied by the intensification of government sponsored military-agricultural colonies (tuntian), in which soldier-settlers where stationed in remote frontier settlements as the vanguards of Chinese civilization. Although frontier regions farther west in Yunnan and Sichuan remained immune to these developments well into the Qing (1644-1911), Guizhou was very early subjected to attempts at direct imperial control. Direct administration was first implemented during the Yuan (1271-1368), when an imperial edict ordered that all tribespeople living north of the Wu River, which roughly bisects Guizhou, be relocated to lands south of the river. After becoming a province in 1413, more and more of Guizhou was put under direct administration. But gai tu gui liu engendered stiff resistance from local tusi, while indigenous farmers were increasingly alienated from productive land by tuntian colonies. The countryside often erupted in rebellion, with an average of one every three and a half years during the Ming period (Jenks 1985, 80). Because of its terrain, the Qiandongnan region was the most difficult part of Guizhou for the government to maintain control over. It became a refuge of powerful tusi, who had long been exempt from paying any tax to the government. In the late Qing, during what became known as the "Miao Rebellions" (1854-1872), local rebels successfully held all the major towns in the region for nearly twenty years.

The rebellions of the 19th century were, according to Robert Jenks (1985), motivated less by ethnic hostility than by land alienation, onerous taxation, and administrative abuses--factors which crossed ethnic lines. As Jenks points out, however, branding the rebellions as an ethnic conflict brought about by immutable cultural differences (that is, between the civilized and the uncivilized) absolved the government from responsibility for inherent political and economic causes. "The Qing were well aware that the Han played a major role in the rebellion. By labeling it a Miao rebellion in official historiography, the stigma of having rebelled and caused vast destruction and misery was attached squarely to the Miao and not the Han" (1985, 3). "Miao" was a Han Chinese term for a whole array of people in the region, defined according to their collective distance from Chinese culture. The Miao were those who turned their back on Chinese civilization, who practiced unusual agriculture such as shifting cultivation, and who did not adhere to Confucian morality (Diamond 1995). In reality, of course, the region was a complex mix of social classes and cultural economies. But the mystique of the rugged Miaoling as the isolated home of rebellious and exotic natives has remained in popular Chinese culture and has become an important feature of ethnic tourism in the region today.

Today, forty percent of Qiandongnan's population is made up of those who are officially classified as Miao. Another thirty five percent are Dong, and most of the remainder are Han Chinese concentrated in the region's towns and cities. The Miaoling tends to divide the region into two different cultural landscapes. Belonging to the Sino-Tibetan language family, the Miao are mostly concentrated in the upper elevations of the mountains and throughout the valleys draining northward into the Qingshui. South of the divide, the topography loses elevation quickly and deep gorges give way to the broad valleys of the Duliu River. This region, considerably lower and warmer than the rest of Qiandongnan, is dominated by the Dong, a group belonging to the Tai language family. Historically favoring settled valley rice cultivation, the Dong in this region were less at odds with encroaching Chinese culture as the Han established outposts along the river. Perhaps because of their similar cultural economies, and because of the area's greater accessibility via the broad placid Duliu River, the Dong were less subject to repressive Chinese efforts to assimilate "uncooked" tribespeople like the Miao. Whereas the Miao to the north were divided into a great diversity of socio-economic and cultural groups with little interconnection between them, the Dong of the Duliu basin maintained a tight social organization based on a representative system of traditional law and order known as the kuan, and political-administrative units of territory known as dong. Chinese references to dong regions date to the Yuan Dynasty, and it is perhaps from this term that the Chinese began to refer to these people as "Dong" (they refer to themselves with a variety of names, most of which sound something like "gaeml").

The Duliu River basin is the most sparsely populated region in Guizhou. It also contains the least amount of cultivated land, only 4.3 percent (the average for Guizhou as a whole is 10.5 percent). But the vast majority is irrigated paddy and grain yields tend to be some of the highest in the province. The region is still relatively well forested and timber is the primary industry. Large log rafts can still be seen floating down the Duliu to be processed at mills downstream in Guangxi. The majority of productive agricultural land tends to be farmed by Han Chinese. A comparison of Dong and Han villages in Liping county, one of the three which make up the region, reveals a significant ethnic income division, even among farmers (Table 1). Though land in the subtropical valleys can be quite productive, it is extremely scarce and significant capital investments are required to put it into production. All three counties in the region are officially classified as "impoverished counties" (pinkunxian), qualifying them for state assistance. This comes mostly in the form of low-interest loans or grants for land engineering projects or diversification schemes, such as planting fruit orchards on marginal slope land.

Table 1: Comparison of Dong and Han Villages in Liping County, 1987 (%)
Grain Production                   Dong      Han

 Contributing villages                28.7      47.0
 Self-sufficient villages              19.6      24.2
 Grain deficit villages                51.7      28.8

Net Peasant Income per capita (nongmin chunshouru)

 Over 300 yuan                       0.4
 251-300                              12.0         21.2
 201-250                              15.4         34.8
 151-200                               20.8        34.8
 101-150                               40.0          5.3
 100 and below                        1.3          1.5
(Source:  Liping Xianzhi 1989).

The two villages with which this chapter is ultimately concerned--Zhaoxing and Gaozeng--are both Dong villages situated in the Duliu basin, not far from the Guangxi border (see Figure 2). Both are recognized as important centers of Dong culture; each has been a dong seat for hundreds of years. They also serve as administrative village seats (xiang) representing the lowest level of state bureaucracy in the rural administrative hierarchy. They thus maintain a direct link to the governments in their respective counties. Historically, both have been relatively prosperous agricultural communities, enjoying a subtropical climate, abundant rain, and convenient nearby transportation along the Duliu. Today, however, they are regarded as two of the most difficult to reach tourist sites in the province. Once the railroad and major highways (which pass through the northern part of Qiandongnan only) rendered river transport relatively obsolete, Qiandongnan's Miao regions became, ironically, the most accessible in the prefecture. As will be discussed below, this reversed the historical situation and enabled the local tourism industry to construct an image of these Dong villages as the most remote, mysterious, and authentic in the province. As we shall also see, this distinction has not been lost on the villagers themselves as they begin to adjust their senses of place in light of their new situation.

Chinese modernity, theme parks, and state cultural policy

Since the initiation of economic reforms and the open-door policy, China has experienced an unprecedented degree of exposure to the West. This has been accompanied by an intense collective inquiry into Chinese national culture and identity (see Schein 1993). Much of the discourse of nationalism in China involves the articulation of a contradiction between an avowed desire for modernity on the one hand, and a desire to maintain continuity with a traditional past on the other. As Anagnost (1993) has suggested, anxiety over this contradiction is perhaps related to the popularity of Shenzhen's "Splendid China" (Zhenxiu Zhonghua) tourist park as well as the proliferation of "old towns" (fangujie) throughout urban China.

"Splendid China" comprises over 30 hectares of miniaturized national landmarks. Especially intriguing, Anagnost notes, is the juxtaposition of this miniaturized landscape of ancient Chinese cultural traditions set within that most modern and transient of all Chinese cities, Shenzhen. This juxtaposition is a compelling expression of modernity and nationalism in China. Shenzhen is the site of China's latest revolutionary rupture: the dramatic upheaval of market capitalism. "Shenzhen hurtling toward the telos of modernity is the present 'time' of the nation, but one that all the more requires the calming certainty of a timeless identity residing within" (Anagnost 1993, 590). For Anagnost, "Splendid China" serves as that "calming certainty," and its position within China's earliest and most successful Special Economic Zone signifies, perhaps, a collective ambivalence over the destabilizing openness which has only intensified since 1989.

The construction of "Splendid China" signifies a general trend in China, in which tourism and intensified market commercialism and commodification have collaborated to invent a landscape of nostalgia upon which to build a sense of national identity. Another example discussed by Anagnost is the proliferation of "old towns" (fangujie) throughout many urban centers in China. These spectacles of commodity consumption are at once a rejection of the socialist architectural legacy, an invention of traditional Chinese urbanity, and an affirmation of "market socialism" in which commodity exchange has seemingly replaced industrial production as the driver of history. Modernity, tradition, socialism: in the old town you can have it all. Tourism in China, in other words, is thriving on the experience of anxiety, ambivalence, and disorientation which modernity has brought.

Perhaps the most profound aspect of this experience has been a popular fascination with ethnic minority culture as an exotic and primitive source of vitality for modern China as it faces the cool onrush of global capitalism and the McWorld. Tourism has been a major factor in directing China's gaze toward minority culture and in standardizing that culture into a set of "authentic" markers which are readily recognizable for public consumption. Thus, shortly after the opening of "Splendid China" in Shenzhen, work began next door on a 180,000 square meter "China Folk Culture Villages" (Zhongguo Minsu Wenhuacun) tourist park. Opened on October 1st, 1991, the Villages unambiguously situates ethnic minority culture within a comprehensive definition of the modern Chinese nation (note, for example, the opening date: China's National Day). Featuring "authentic replicas" (that wonderful oxymoron of tourism) of "typical" dwellings for 21 of China's 56 officially recognized minzu groups,2 the park domesticates and displays ethnic culture to be gazed upon by modern Chinese who find themselves whirling in the maelstrom of Shenzhen and in need of the "calming certainty" of folk tradition (Figures 3 and 4). Thus, as if to heighten the juxtaposition between transnational modernization and Chinese national identity, a McDonald's restaurant has been placed right outside the gate of the Villages. Emerging from this collection of exotic and colorful ethnic spectacles, the arresting and universal vision of the Golden Arches is perhaps all it takes to convince the visitor that modern China's identity rests squarely upon the shoulders of its ethnic minorities.

China Folk Culture Villages traffics in the selective cultural essence of a particular ethnic group, weeding out those factors which might detract from a vision of multinational unity. In visiting the Villages, tourists are supposed to passively collect a set of carefully crafted images and experiences which flow together with enough standardized similarity from village to village to convey a sense of the wholeness which pervades and surrounds the park: modern China (Figure 5). A souvenir book available at the Folk Culture Villages illustrates this quite explicitly. Written in English and Chinese, it states that, "Guided by the principle of 'originating from real life but rising above it, and discarding the dross and selecting the essential' [yuan yu shenghuo, gao yu shenghuo, huiji jingcui, you suo qushe], the Villages attempts to reflect from various angles the folk customs and cultures of China's nationalities" (Shen and Cheung 1992, 4). The book goes on to entice the visitor with descriptions of the various festival activities which are regularly performed at the Villages. The visitor's reaction to all this is quite prescribed: "Grand, romantic, rejoicing and auspicious, thses festivals will enable visitors to take in the happy atmosphere of the magnificient occasions and to feel the poetic quality of the life of the Chinese nation" (ibid., 4). The touristic vision of the Chinese nation, in other words, is of a poetic and colorful mosaic, a distinctive tapestry woven by the happy and servile minorities.

This is not, however, simply a touristic vision of nationalism, but a fundamental legacy of Chinese modernity. During the "New Culture Movement" of the 1920s and 30s, writers such as Wen Yidou and Shen Congwen valorized minority culture as a source of vitality to which China should turn in casting off its subjugation and reclaiming its identity in the modern world (see Kinkley 1987).3

With the ethnic identification project (minzu shibie) under the communists after 1949, this turn to the non-Han periphery was institutionalized and rendered scientific. The communists instituted a policy of regional autonomy, along the Stalinist lines developed in the Soviet Union, in which "minority nationality areas" (shaoshu minzu diqu) were allowed some leniency in the implementation of socialist transformation. Unlike the Soviet prototype, however, Chinese autonomy policy explicitly declared minority areas to be an inseparable part of the People's Republic (Conner 1984; Dreyer 1976). Policies concerning "minority nationalities" were primarily governed by a desire to establish Chinese national unity and the ultimate goal of socialism. These issues, in turn, conditioned the Party's subsequent project of ethnic identification, in which an astonishing number of groups claiming separate ethnic identity (over four hundred) were classified into fifty-five minzu categories (Fei 1981). Ethnic identification and regional autonomy were not about self-determination but rather about defining regions and their inhabitants according to their backwardness and need for economic, cultural, and social development (Solinger 1977; Hsieh 1989). Stalin's criteria were ostensibly used in categorizing ethnic groups, but the more fundamental issue was the extent of socio-cultural distance from the Han Chinese.4 Theoretically, this was important because certain groups had some "catching up" to do in achieving the ultimate goal of socialist transformation. In order to recognize them and grant them territory where their "special characteristics" would temper the speed of their transformation, they needed to be scientifically identified. In this the Chinese relied heavily on the "stages of development" model attributed to Lewis Henry Morgan (1877), a model which in fact inspired Marx and Engels (see Engels 1884). As China's preeminent ethnologist Fei Xiaotong (1981, 65) commented, "The state of the nationalities in China in the early post-liberation years provided researchers with a living textbook on the history of social development."

Morgan's evolutionary framework became important not only in terms of identifying where a particular group stood along the path of social development, but in providing a standard set of cultural markers which the state could expect to find in such a group given its stage of development. These cultural markers became the primary determinants of minzu status since few groups exhibited Stalin's other characteristics in any consistent fashion. Minzu categories came to be defined primarily according to cultural criteria (Harrell 1990). This established a very important aspect of state-sanctioned ethnicity in China, especially in the southwest. Because Chinese people had historically "seeped" into the various tribal domains of southwest China over an extended period of time, the cultural traditions of that region have in many ways long been influenced by Han Chinese culture. Although Barth reminds us that the "sharing of a common culture should not be constructed as the essential definitional criterion of ethnic groups" (cited in Okamura 1981, 457), the Chinese state proceeded from the assumption that minzu groups could be identified according to essential non-Han cultural markers. Fei (1981) notes that the major problem confronted by minzu shibie involved separating from everybody else those who, despite claiming otherwise, were really Han. These were generally groups who could not claim sufficient cultural distinctiveness from dominant Chinese markers. Thus, more than anything, minzu groups were defined according to cultural distance from the Han.

Norma Diamond illustrates this in her analysis of how the Miao were classified during minzu shibie:

That the Miao were initially identified as an example of primitive communal society is somewhat surprising, since the bulk of the survey work on the Miao was carried out in Guizhou. It was the absence of clear-cut class stratification within many Miao communities, the absence of "big landlords," full time artisans, and merchants; and the existence of communal lands that were the basis for viewing Miao populations as representative of an early stage of society. The investigators underplayed Miao involvement in local marketing systems and their use of currency, stressing instead the self-sufficiency of the household economy (Diamond 1995, 108-9). Given the contentious history of Chinese-Miao relations, it is not surprising that investigators would be looking for certain cultural markers which indicated the Miao were a primitive people.

On this linear scale of social development, the Dong were located somewhere between the Miao and the Han (who, of course, were the farthest along this scale and thus most qualified to lead the country's socialist transformation). Settled agriculturalists, the Dong had also been known to prosper from commercial cash crop production, especially during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when industrialism along the coast created a great demand for cotton (Jiang 1991). Unlike the primitive Miao, the Dong had flirted with capitalism. Cultural markers of Dong identity focused on visible artifacts of the social organization which had enabled the Dong to become more socially developed. These included magnificent drum towers (gulou), covered "wind and rain" bridges (fengyuqiao or huaqiao), and large barn-like "post-pile" houses (diaojiaolou), all evidence of the peculiar socio-cultural organization of Dong village and family life. Also emphasized were social activities, like inter-village singing performances, which reflected the alliance networks which defined the dong.

State ethnic identification was initially carried out under the theoretical assumption that socialist modernization would bring about the end of national (that is, ethnic) distinctions. During the Cultural Revolution, this assumption was put more forcefully into practice, and the whole institution of minzu shibie was demolished as a remnant of "local nationalism." With the reforms initiated in 1978, however, not only did minzu shibie return, but there was a significant cultural revival in which interest in the distinctive cultural features of minority groups increased. While it is still assumed that modernization will lead to the transformation of all society, the state now supports the idea that cultural distinctiveness, at least on a symbolic level, should be maintained among the different minzu groups. In promoting a cultural diversity which is largely symbolic, the state hopes to establish an environment conducive to national economic integration, geopolitical security, and patriotism.

The equating of ethnicity with essential non-Han cultural markers thus remains the central feature of state-sanctioned ethnic identity in China today. Minzu groups like the Dong are identified according to an increasingly standardized set of markers. Many books on Dong culture and customs begin, as does this example by Wang Shengxian (1989, 1), with lines like, "the most representative features of the Dong are the drum tower and the covered bridge." The "distinctive architecture" represented at China Folk Culture Villages is only the most obvious example of this. Since its 1991 opening in Shenzhen, similar parks have opened in Qingdao, Kunming, Guilin, and Beijing. In the four theme parks I've visited, the Dong villages all feature drum towers, covered bridges, waterwheels, and "post-pile" houses which are identical from park to park, despite a great variety of forms and styles throughout regions populated by Dong.5 Filtered by representations in tourist theme parks, and by images in television, film, and other media of public culture, minzu groups come to be associated with very specific and delimited cultural markers which get standardized and circulated in China's burgeoning industry of cultural commodity production.

Michel Picard has documented a very similar situation concerning Balinese culture in Indonesia. Exemplified in Asia's original miniaturized theme park, the "Beautiful Indonesia in Miniature Park," the Indonesian state promotes a "national culture" composed of many "regional cultures," each identified by specific cultural symbols. Picard notes that,

the conception of Balinese culture as kebudayaan daerah [regional culture] implies its decomposition into discrete cultural elements, to be sieved through the filter of national ideology and sorted out: those deemed appropriate to contribute to the development of the kebudayaan nasional [national culture] should be salvaged and promoted, whereas those deemed too primitive or emphasizing local ethnic identity should be eradicated (Picard 1993, 93) This selective preservation and discarding of local culture has been the pervasive approach to promoting cultural diversity and multi-ethnic unity in China (see also Heberer 1989, 47).

Ethnic theme parks are probably the most visible manifestation of this kind of state cultural policy. As we shall see below, they also play a significant role in defining as authentic the more remote villages which display the cultural forms selected by the state as representing particular minzu groups. The state thus plays and active role in historical preservation in the remote places where local architecture and customs have served as the model for ethnic theme parks in China's modern cities. A combination of state organs determines what is to be preserved. The most significant of these are the Nationalities Affairs Commission (minwei) and the Cultural Relics Division of the State Cultural Bureau (wenwuchu). Whereas the minwei is concerned with all aspects of nationality affairs and is the major source of funding in the promotion of ethnic tourism in Guizhou, the wenwuchu is more specifically responsible for selecting and preserving cultural artifacts. These include temples and pavilions, houses and guild halls, tombs and graves, bridges, city walls, and revolutionary sites. Recently, entire villages have been selected if they represent a well preserved example of typical minzu architecture and customs. When a minzu village gains status as a wenwu baohu danwei (literally a "protected cultural relic unit") it qualifies for certain state funds used to maintain its traditional character; locals then must abide by a code preventing new "modern" buildings from being built, or traditional buildings from being altered or modified. In such cases, state cultural preservation seeks to "fossilize" certain aspects of cultural tradition, drawing distinct boundaries around local customs, fixing them in time and space and insuring that they remain encased as exhibits for the modern metropolitan world to observe and appreciate. As will be discussed below, such preservation, and the access to the state it affords, plays a significant role in shaping a local discourse of place identity, in which groups claim status as the most authentic representatives of a particular minzu.

The state's sanctioning and promoting of ethnic cultural revival based on essential symbolic markers which get produced and reproduced in the channels of market-oriented commercial exchange has had a significant impact on the identity of minzu groups. Stevan Harrell (1990, 545) claims that while the state "recognizes cultural criteria for ethnicity pure and simple," the groups themselves "operate from the kind of primordial-instrumental dialectic described by so many ethnicity theorists." It is true that the Dong in the villages featured here display this "primordial-instrumental dialectic," but their situation as tourist sites has also provided them with a state-sanctioned battery of symbolic markers with which to measure their authenticity as Dong. Harrell states that, "when primordial sentiments cannot be converted into culturalist claims because of a lack of evidence..., the state and the local people will be at odds; and ethnic identity is likely to be a matter of dispute" (ibid., 545). Although Harrell's case deals with a group disputing its state-assigned minzu status, rather than, as in the present study, a group's qualifications as the most authentic representative of a particular minzu, I believe the situation is similar enough to warrant comparison. As we shall see below, the additional factor of tourism provides locals with the materials needed to create culturalist claims when previous claims of authenticity become jeopardized, and to resolve what could have been a matter of dispute with the state into a means of building a sense of place in keeping with the broader context of state cultural policy and economic development.

Ethnic Tourism Development in Qiandongnan

In 1982 the Guizhou Tourism Bureau (GTB) was established and began promoting two separate tourist routes out of Guiyang. The western route emphasized lakes, caves, waterfalls, and other scenic attractions peculiar to karst landscapes, all within easy access of Guiyang. The eastern route, in Qiandongnan, was to emphasize both scenery and minzu customs. Developments in Qiandongnan did not really get underway until 1985, with the opening of Kaili (the prefecturual capital), Shibing, and Zhenyuan to foreign tourists, and with the establishment of a prefectural tourism bureau in Kaili (Qiandongnan's most well known scenic sites--Yuntai Mountain and the Wuyang Gorge--are located in Shibing and Zhenyuan). More remote from Guiyang, with poorer roads and fewer financial resources, Qiandongnan lagged considerably behind the western route in terms of investments and numbers of tourists (Table 2).6 The majority of tourists who did come, however, tended to be foreigners or compatriots from Hong Kong who stayed longer and spent more money than their counterparts along the western route (Table 3). From 1985 to 1990, roughly sixty percent of the foreign tourists in Qiandongnan were from Japan. The idea that the Miao and the Japanese came from the same origins had become popular in Japan after teams of Japanese ethnographers visited Qiandongnan in the early 1980s and published books on the Miao. The books commented on Miao customs and dress which were similar to those found in ancient feudal Japan; soon many Japanese tourists were coming to Qiandongnan to look for their roots.

Table 2: Qiandongnan:  Foreign Tourists Received
Year      Number     Share of Guizhou Total (%)     Estimated Revenues* (US$)

1984           71               0.69
1985         206               1.83
1986         430               3.07                                 8,000
1987         864               4.59                                 9,900
1988      1,071               4.53                               20,700
1989         920               6.73                                 9,950
1990      1,174               4.87                               20,930
1991      1,414               3.77                               38,100
1992      2,096               2.75                               53,000
1993      3,951               3.86                               80,500
*  Revenues based on food, lodging, and official fees for tour groups only.
(Source:  Qiandongnan Tourism Bureau, Guizhou Tourism Bureau)

 Table 3: Comparison of Guizhou's Eastern (Qiandongnan) and Western Tourist Routes, 1985-1990
                                                                      Eastern Route                              Western Route

Average length of stay
 Foreign tourists                                                   2.84 days                                  0.76 days
 Hong Kong, Taiwan tourists                                6.06 days                                  1.22 days
Average expenditures per foreign tourist             106.53 yuan                              11.94 yuan
Tourism Investments (to 1989)                          500,000 yuan                      8,550,000 yuan
(Source: Yang 1991, 60)

This development underscores the fact that it was ethnic tourism which local officials quickly recognized as the main attraction to foreigners in Qiandongnan. Higher level tourism planners in the State Tourism Administration (STA) in Beijing, and in the GTB, were relatively slow to recognize the potential of ethnic tourism in Guizhou. In part, this reflects Chinese assumptions about tourism in general, in which natural and historical landscapes--not exotic customs--have been the most highly valued tourist resources (Yang-Peterson 1995). Despite this, however, the Qiandongnan prefectural tourism bureau began devoting itself to establishing a number of ethnic tourist villages around Kaili. By 1987, seven villages--all Miao but one--had been selected where tour groups could be treated to elaborate welcoming ceremonies, song and dance performances, and participate in crafts demonstrations (Figure 6). These villages generally charge a fee (determined by the tourism bureau) for receiving tour groups, and in most cases tourism brings a substantial change to a village's economic situation (Table 4). Ironically, reception activities in these villages tend to be modeled on the ethnic theme parks which mark them as authentic.

Table 4: Selected Characteristics of Three Ethnic Tourist Villages in Guizhou, 1993
                                                                  Western Route                                Qiandongnan
                                                             Changlinggang  Heitu                                  Langde

Total Tourists Received                           4,063            1,343                                    3,945
 Foreign                                                  2,324               801                                       530
 Domestic                                               1,739               542                                    3,415
Fees Paid to Village (yuan)                    68,090          22,878                                  43,103
Fees Per Tourist (yuan)                           16.76            17.03                                    10.67
Fees Per Village Household (yuan)*    1,745.89          571.95                                  399.10
Fees Per Villager (yuan)*                       362.18          103.99                                    81.33
Net Peasant Income in County (yuan
 per capita, 1990)                                      528               528                                       209
* Actual figures will vary since not all the fees are distributed to households and not all households participate in tourist receptions.  Some households will earn substantially more (up to 150% of the basic per household fees) by selling handicraft souvenirs to tourists.
(Source:  Guizhou Xianqing 1992, Qingzhen minwei, village secretaries)

There were basically three reasons for Qiandongnan's locally initiated emphasis on ethnic tourism. First, foreign tourist demand, especially from the Japanese, was a major factor. Specifically, guides at China International Travel Service (CITS) in Guiyang played an important role in moving Qiandongnan in the direction of ethnic tourism promotion.

A second factor involves local control over tourist resources and returns on investments. The director of the prefectural tourism bureau, Pan Xinxiong, told me he had no interest in investing precious capital in yet another cave, waterfall, or canyon. "Developing scenic sites," he said, "requires much more money than developing an ethnic village; it takes a long time to realize any returns. And now, with so many scenic sites already being developed in western Guizhou, there's no point in trying to compete." More importantly, the prefectural tourism bureau has virtually no say in the development of Qiandongnan's major scenic sites, since they fall under the jurisdiction of state organs which have the capital necessary to develop them. Yuntai Mountain is being developed by the ministries of construction and forestry, while most of the money for the Wuyang Gorge has come from the hydroelectric bureau. These are large state-level units which basically bypass Qiandongnan's local tourism authorities. In the current economic environment in which local units are expected to be fiscally responsible, and in which Qiandongnan's tourism bureau is expected to fund its own projects by expanding tourist revenues, there is little incentive for Pan to encourage tourists to visit scenic areas. Indeed, he actively discourages trips to the Wuyang Gorge, claiming it is a boring trip in a noisy motor boat on a man-made reservoir which is usually not filled to capacity anyway. "The hydroelectric bureau--what do they know about tourism?" he told me. Ethnic tourist villages, on the other hand, are directly administered by the prefectural tourism bureau, which sets the fees to be paid to the villages. Although most of the investments for these villages actually comes from the minwei, the tourism bureau administers its use and distribution. The minwei, claimed Pan, doesn't know anything about tourism, "so they just let us take care of it." Thus, the tourism bureau and the local branch of CITS realize direct returns from ethnic village tourism.

Finally, according to Pan, ethnic tourism offers locals the chance to directly benefit in ways they can't from scenic tourism. Although scenic sites offer places for locals to sell souvenirs and other services, they also lock up large amounts of land in areas where land is the precious source of one's livelihood. This is certainly true at the large cave and waterfall sites along the western route. In Qiandongnan, at the Wuyang Gorge and Yuntai Mountain, local peasants are prevented from cutting trees for firewood. But they do it anyway, especially on the steep slopes above the gorge where erosion is defacing the hillsides and muddying the river. This puts them in direct conflict with the government and alienates them from tourism. Such environmental conflicts with the state are not likely to happen in ethnic tourist villages, Pan said. More importantly, while rural incomes derived from tourism remain rather limited (that is, beyond the actual tourist villages), tourism is regarded by local officials as a force which can break through the isolation which still pervades the Miaoling. Pan explained it in these terms:

It all has to do with transportation. Rivers, roads, or railroads, it's all the same; this area has always been extremely difficult to get to and get around in. Why don't the Han have the hundreds of festivals which people in this region take part in each year? Because they've never had to come up with an excuse to bring people in neighboring areas together. Here, because of the difficulty of transport, local villages have always kept to themselves; but they need occasions for trade, social interaction, and particularly, opportunities to get their youth married. That is the main purpose of the local festivals. Why have minority people here been getting shorter and shorter? Because they never go more than a few kilometers to get married. And this kind of local breeding causes other shortcomings as well; they have little ambition to broaden the horizons of their world. The most important thing tourism is doing here is changing everyone's perspective. It's not important they learn about America or France or even Hong Kong and Taiwan; but what they are learning about is what the people in the next valley over are doing, and particularly, what's going on in the towns and in the city of Kaili. Pan, and many others here, believe that this is the most important change tourism is capable of bringing to Qiandongnan; broadening local horizons will strengthen the people.

This idea has encouraged the prefectural tourism bureau to develop ethnic tourist resources throughout the region. By 1994, over 50 different villages had been selected as meeting the criteria for ethnic tourist sites.7 This expansion has also been the result of the tourism bureau's increased awareness of how the concept of authenticity drives the foreign market in ethnic tourism, particularly among Westerners. As suggested by Table 4, western route ethnic tourist villages (which have been opened more recently than those in Qiandongnan) receive only slightly more tourists than those in Qiandongnan, but they now earn significantly higher revenues. Because of this, the more remote villages of Qiandongnan have maintained a greater degree of authenticity in the eyes of Guiyang tour guides. As one told me, "Those villages [along the western route near Guiyang] are way too commercial, too close to the city; they don't have very traditional lives, and their values are oriented toward money, they always want money for everything." She said she preferred taking tour groups to the villages in Qiandongnan, which were "much less spoiled, more traditional." Whether a village satisfies Western tourists, apparently, is seen as the best indicator of authenticity. Travel agencies in Guiyang are thus more likely to take Western tour groups to Qiandongnan because Westerners are known to appreciate "more traditional villages."

Even within Qiandongnan, the original seven tourist villages are now often regarded as "too commercial," and so Western groups these days are steered toward more remote places where the customs are "still authentic." Domestic Chinese tourists now predominate in these original seven villages, of which Langde, in Table 4, is the most popular. Given this situation, the Dong villages of the Duliu basin have achieved somewhat special status in Guizhou's ethnic tourism. The region was only officially opened to foreign tourists in 1993. Since then, the Duliu basin has been promoted, both by the prefectural tourism bureau, and travel agencies in Guiyang, as the "authentic frontier" of ethnic tourism: Zhaoxing and Gaozeng are not yet commercialized, are difficult to reach, and are said to offer examples of "pure" Dong culture. More importantly, opening the Duliu basin has enabled tourists to travel directly to Qiandongnan from the popular tourist city of Guilin, in Guangxi to the south. This gives the prefectural tourism bureau the opportunity of direct access to tourists entering the province, rather than having to deal with Guiyang travel agencies and lose a significant share of the revenues. Pan Xinxiong was thus eager to exploit this new route in order to secure Qiandongnan's independence from Guiyang.

Aside from their relative accessibility, Zhaoxing and Gaozeng were selected as ethnic tourist villages because of their status as "preserved cultural relics" under the provincial wenwuchu. The typical pattern in Qiandongnan has been for protected villages to later become tourist sites. That this has become a source of some tension between the wenwuchu and the tourism bureau reflects an area of potential conflict between state cultural policy and commercial tourism development. The head of the prefectural cultural bureau told me he resented how the tourism bureau always took advantage of wenwuchu "discoveries," capitalizing on minwei and wenwuchu investments, and reaping all the benefits. He didn't appreciate that the wenwuchu's efforts to protect cultural relics were often undermined by the tourism industry. "The needs of tourism development," he said, "often puts the wenwuchu at odds with the tourism bureau over what changes should be allowed to occur in a protected village."

Villagers occupy an ambiguous space between these broader contending forces of cultural preservation and commercial tourism development. The state has set up a framework in which both market-oriented economic development and the preservation of symbolic cultural diversity are encouraged. Because the idea of ethnic authenticity based on cultural distance from the Han has been sanctioned and institutionalized by the state's ethnic identification project, agencies like the wenwuchu, metropolitan tour guides, and many tourists themselves, are likely to see a contradiction between commercialism and the preservation of ethnic cultural authenticity. Villagers are not unaware of the need to meet the expectations of their visitors, but the idea of a contradiction between authenticity and economic development is generally incomprehensible to them. Villagers thus tend to promote their own commercial tourism development quite vigorously. In Langde, Qiandongnan's most visited ethnic tourist site, villagers have initiated several schemes, such as a handicraft shop and a parking lot, with the goal of giving the village more control over tourism revenues.8 These schemes have been resisted by both the prefectural tourism bureau (which seeks to maintain its own control over revenues) and the wenwuchu (which sees the plans as compromising the village's authenticity). The head of the prefectural cultural bureau thus makes frequent trips to Langde, reminding villagers of Langde's enviable position as an "open-air museum" and a preserved relic.

As has already happened in Langde, once villagers themselves begin attempting to initiate their own commercial tourism ventures they too run into conflicts with the wenwuchu over the protected status of their village. The loss of protected status, however, can dramatically alter a village's tourism prospects. This is not simply because of the lost access to state investments which help develop the village's tourist resources, but more importantly because in the eyes of the broader industry--the county and prefectural tourism authorities and the tourist agencies in Guiyang--the village has also lost its authenticity as a true minzu village.

The cases of Gaozeng and Zhaoxing represent two different versions of how villagers occupy and appropriate this space between state-sanctioned expectations of cultural authenticity and the state-encouraged development of a commercially viable tourist industry. The two villages have had contrasting experiences: one lost its status as a "protected relic" and has subsequently sought to reclaim its authenticity, while the other has effectively exploited its status as an authentic village by maintaining key linkages with the broader tourism industry. Both, however, display similarities in that villagers are clearly articulating local tradition with extra-local processes as they reproduce their senses of place identity.

Gaozeng: place identity and the loss of authenticity

Gaozeng is a large village situated at the upper end of a narrow plain of good paddy land extending south to the Duliu River and bordered by mountains which rise eight hundred meters above the valley floor. Formerly a dong, the seat of Gaozeng commune, and now an administrative xiang, the village has a history of at least six hundred years. While the village itself has a population of 1,825 (1993), it is the administrative and economic center for an area which includes 38 natural villages and nearly 14,000 people; about 90 percent of them are Dong. Incomes are derived almost entirely from rice cultivation and timber processing. Villagers throughout the region produce household wood products and sell them in the county town, only 8 kilometers from Gaozeng. The village actually consists of three clan-based natural villages, each with its own drum tower. Historically, drum towers have served as gathering sites for village defense, clan meetings, and festival events. Because of its collection of three towers, hundreds of diaojiaolou houses, and a picturesque setting, Gaozeng was designated a wenwu baohu danwei in 1982, the first village in Qiandongnan to be granted such status. In 1984 Gaozeng received a grant from the minwei to renovate the drum towers, repair houses and bridges, and otherwise "beautify" the village. Although the region wasn't officially open to foreign tourists until 1993, a few tour groups were being granted special permission to go there as early as 1982. By 1988 the village was seeing a regular flow of about 20 tour groups a year, most of them Japanese.

Gaozeng's early rise in Qiandongnan's fledgling ethnic tourist industry was partly due to the efforts of Wang Shengxian, who grew up in the village and became a Dong scholar at the Qiandongnan Nationalities Research Institute in Kaili. During the 1980s he wrote eight books on various aspects of Dong culture, and through his positions in different prefectural propaganda and research organs promoted Gaozeng as an example of ancient Dong culture and civilization. On Wang's initiative, groups of minzu scholars began to visit the village. Because of Wang's influence, many of Gaozeng's youth received jobs in performance troupes in Guiyang and other parts of China. Many of the tour groups who came during the 1980s were personally led by Wang and stayed in his family's house, which subsequently became the richest in the village.

Gaozeng's prospects as a center of Dong ethnic tourism were dramatically altered in 1988, however, when a fire destroyed two-thirds of the village and two of the three drum towers. With the fire, Gaozeng's privileged position in the hierarchy of state recognition and cultural preservation was lost. As the director of the prefectural cultural bureau told me, "That village is now ruined (pohuaile). The villagers may rebuild the drum towers, but they will no longer be authentic cultural relics (zhenshi wenwu)." Though the towers were protected relics, once they were destroyed the state saw no point in providing funds to rebuild them since they would have no value as traditional antiques. Although the county canceled Gaozeng's taxes and grain quotas, no relief funds were distributed to help rebuild the village; the drum towers themselves were regarded as a clan responsibility. But wood had grown scarce and the old-growth logs necessary to build new towers would have to be purchased from a neighboring xiang. By 1994, only about half of the needed money had been raised.

It was particularly difficult for villagers to raise money because tourism quickly dwindled to three or four groups per year. Travel agencies and tourism authorities no longer promoted the village, and attention began to focus, instead, on Zhaoxing. Meanwhile, the village's advocate, Wang Shengxian, had given up on scholarship to become an entrepreneur, investing in local timber and mining schemes. Wang became less concerned with promoting the village as an authentic spectacle and started funding development projects, such as a new school, to get the people on their feet again. Within the tourism industry, it became common to refer to Gaozeng as pohuaile. Along with this, the village earned the label of being too "Hanified" (hanhuale): it was no longer an authentic Dong village. At the county government, the official in charge of tourism told me that if I really wanted to learn about the "true Dong," I shouldn't stay at Gaozeng but would be better off at the more remote village of Xiaohuang, tucked up in the mountains three hours by foot from Gaozeng. Guides in Kaili and Guiyang told me the same thing. Besides the absence of two drum towers, the loss of authenticity was visible, to outsiders, in the fact that many of the houses were rebuilt with brick instead of wood; wood was scarce and expensive, and brick had the advantage of being fire proof. Wang Shengxian's family, for their part, built a new cement house, the largest in the village. But the loss of authenticity was especially visible in the new rural credit association building, a large incongruous white cement structure built just outside the village gate (Figure 7). Such a building would never have been permitted if the village had remained a wenwu baohu danwei.

County officials and leaders in the xiang government (most of whom were not actually from Gaozeng but had been assigned there) claimed that such changes were inevitable in Gaozeng, which was, after all, only 8 kilometers from the county town. "Gaozeng is becoming modern," the xiang secretary told me. He referred to the fact that billiards and smoking cigarettes had replaced music and singing as the main activities of village youth. "Most of the village girls no longer learn how to weave; they want to buy modern clothes in town." But he also claimed that the villagers liked the new credit association building, that it symbolized modernity and progress for them. If tourists wanted to see the authentic Dong, he said, they could hire a jeep to take them to Xiaohuang, but it was important and desirable for Gaozeng to become a developed, modern village. According to him, such a development necessarily entailed "Hanification."

Among villagers, however, there was a great deal of ambivalence about Gaozeng's loss of protected status and consequent "modernization." Villagers I interviewed could not understand why tourists would want to go to Xiaohuang instead of Gaozeng. "Those people," one told me, referring to Xiaohuang, "they're not clean (tamen bujiang weisheng), they're uncivilized; Gaozeng is over six hundred years old! Why would tourists want to go there instead of here?" Most were acutely aware that after the fire Gaozeng had lost something in the eyes of the Guojia, the state. The village's status as a wenming baohu cunzhai (civilized preserved village), enjoyed during the 1980s, had become an important aspect of their place identity, and "modernity" was a poor substitute for the loss of that status. "This place is becoming just like the county town," one woman told me, "the new buildings, the restaurants, the pool tables; these aren't Dong." Back in 1984, the state had erected two tablets in the village, declaring it a wenming baohu cunzhai. These were destroyed in the fire, and where the drum towers had once stood, villagers had defiantly made their own signs with little white rocks set in the hard ground: wenming gulao cun, "ancient civilized village." For villagers, the loss of identity as a civilized place was symbolically found not only in the absence of the two drum towers, but also in the fact that the village had never rebuilt its splendid covered bridge, which had actually burned down in 1911. Rebuilding these and initiating a new era of tourism was thus seen as the key to reclaiming their status as a civilized place in the eyes of the Guojia and outside visitors.

The campaign to rebuild the drum towers and bridge was being spearheaded by the village elders association (laonian xiehui). As the leader of the association told me, "It is up to the villagers themselves to promote Gaozeng now." In 1993, the association petitioned the provincial government for 200,000 yuan to fund a tourism development project which included rebuilding the bridge, rebuilding the road into the village, and developing a scenic waterfall nearby. As the petition made clear, rebuilding the bridge was the "most pressing need" of the villagers: "The hearts of the masses of Gaozeng all want to restore the covered bridge to their lives, to preserve their heritage." Gaozeng, the petition went on to claim, "has been the cultural hearth of the Dong people since ancient times," its early status as a "village of ancient civilization" was a recognition of this tradition. The association has also been the primary fund-raiser for the drum towers, and has organized singing and dancing lessons for village youth so that they will be prepared when tour groups return. To the association's leader, the 1988 fire initiated Gaozeng's decline. After the fire, village youth started playing pool, people no longer built traditional houses, and didn't care what the village looked like. The new credit association building, a yangfangzi ("Western building"), was a "disgrace" to the village. The association's petition thus proposed re-routing the road into the village, and building a whole new gate, just so tourists wouldn't have to see the yangfangzi as they entered Gaozeng.

The activities of the elders association represented an effort by villagers to reclaim the ingredient of authenticity which had previously been such an important aspect of their place identity. Their sense of place had been conditioned by the broader processes of state cultural policy and commercial tourism, processes in which the concept of authenticity was highly valued. When the village's link to those processes was jeopardized by the fire, villagers began taking initiatives to reclaim it. The issue was not tourist dollars, for these had never been significant, but identity as a civilized place, a traditional hearth of Dong culture. Modernity was regarded as a threat only after the village's secure place-identity was lost in the fire, and tourism, which didn't even exist officially until 1993, was already regarded as the necessary medium with which to re-establish Gaozeng's place as a "village of ancient civilization." With drum towers and covered bridges promoted as the "crystals of the Dong people"--valuable capital in China's new cultural economy--tourism development becomes the clearest means by which Gaozeng can reclaim its cultural heritage and express its identity to the outside world. To further illustrate the importance of those links to the commerce of authenticity afforded by tourism, I turn to the second case, the village of Zhaoxing.

Zhaoxing: home of the "true Dong"

Like Gaozeng, Zhaoxing has long been an established local political and cultural center. Now a xiang seat administering a region of 29 natural villages and just over ten thousand people, it occupies a position identical to Gaozeng in China's rural administrative hierarchy. But with a population of over 3,500 the village of Zhaoxing proper is nearly twice the size of Gaozeng, and boasts not three clans but twelve. It is recognized by county and prefectural officials as the "largest and most ancient" Dong village in China. The village itself sits at the bottom of a deep three sided basin, with the surrounding ridges rising nearly one thousand meters above, giving the place an enclosed and hidden quality. It has five drum towers (some of the smaller clans share a drum tower) and five covered bridges (one, washed away in a flood in July, 1994, was recently rebuilt) (Figure 8). The drum towers were all destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but since being rebuilt they have been given county-level protected status. Three hundred meters up the mountainside in the village of Jitang, a half-hour's walk from Zhaoxing (still within Zhaoxing xiang), are three more drum towers, each at least one hundred and fifty years old. Two of these were given provincial-level protected status in 1982, and by 1985 all of Jitang was recognized as a protected village, an "open-air museum" (lutian bowuguan).

Although during the 1980s Zhaoxing was not promoted as a place of authentic culture to the extent that Gaozeng was, it nevertheless developed important connections with the broader commercial industry of minzu culture. Because of the density of drum towers and covered bridges in the area, peasants from Zhaoxing were recruited to build replica drum towers in the county town and in Kaili. They were also recruited to build entire replica villages (complete with drum towers, waterwheels, covered bridges and diaojiaolou houses) in the ethnic theme parks in Shenzhen, Guilin, and Beijing. Perhaps more than any other factor, the theme park industry helped secure Zhaoxing's eventual status as a place of authentic Dong tradition. The local builders who travelled to these large cosmopolitan cities gained status as the bearers of an ancient architectural art. They learned that tourists would pay as much as 150 yuan (US $17.50) per ticket to see their structures. They returned to Zhaoxing with the knowledge that their village was the "most representative" (zuiyou daibiaoxing) of all the Dong villages.

Song and dance troupes recruited to put on performances at the Dong villages in these ethnic theme parks were sent to Zhaoxing to learn "authentic" Dong songs and dances. While I stayed in Zhaoxing, such a troupe from Guilin spent three weeks there. The members of the troupe, all Dong, were mostly from villages closer to Guilin, in Guangxi. Each brought the distinctive clothing and styles of his or her native village. But they had come to Zhaoxing to learn the kinds of songs and dances performed in this, the most authentic of Dong villages. When I asked villagers why they thought Zhaoxing had become so well known for its cultural traditions, most simply answered that it was "the most cultured and civilized" (zui you wenhua, zui you wenming) of the Dong villages. Several times I was told the story of a professor from Beijing who came to study the Dong. He had first gone to Guangxi, because "Guangxi is more developed and they're better at propaganda (xuanchuan) than Guizhou." When he was about to return to Beijing it was suggested that he visit Zhaoxing. He did and was so overcome he exclaimed to the leader of the local cultural bureau, "The Dong of Zhaoxing are the true Dong; the Dong of Guangxi are fake (jiade)."

Through a combination of broader industry and local initiatives, the pattern of tourism development in Zhaoxing has been clearly driven by this ideal of authenticity. In 1994 the STA sent an investigative team to Qiandongnan to formulate a new comprehensive tourism development plan. Although the team visited Gaozeng, its tour of the Dong areas emphasized Zhaoxing as the comprehensive site of Dong ethnic tourism. Plans called for nearby Jitang to be maintained as an "open-air museum," where tourists could be treated to an authentic Dong experience. The jeep trail to the village was to be improved, a reception house in traditional style would be built, and home-stays for tourists arranged. In Zhaoxing proper, the several yangfangzi which had already been built (the bank, theater, school, and old guesthouse) were to be given facelifts so they resembled the traditional architectural style of the diaojiaolou. While it was recognized that Zhaoxing itself had become more "modern" and somewhat "Hanified," state funds would help restore a traditional look to the place, while the nearby village of Jitang would be promoted as the "authentic Dong village." The head of the Zhaoxing cultural bureau told me that locals also planned to promote other villages in the area, for tourists who were "looking for an even more authentic village." These villages required several hours of hiking to reach. "Those who want to see the real Dong," he said, "will be willing to endure some hardship." He also expressed his confidence that if the state failed to come up with the funding for the plan, locals would pay for it somehow, since "everyone recognizes how important this is for Zhaoxing's future."

Tourism, though just getting underway in Zhaoxing, was already encouraging locals to express a sense of place which incorporated this ideal of authenticity, an ideal conditioned by Zhaoxing's links to the broader commercial tourism and culture industries. One result of this was a popular confidence that the Dong of Qiandongnan were more civilized than the Miao. A retired cadre, living in one of Zhaoxing's outlying villages illustrated this quite lucidly:

It's because of history. If you don't understand history, you can't understand the differences between the Dong and the Miao. It all has to do with transportation. Back when there were no roads or railroads, only rivers, transportation to the Dong areas was more convenient than in the Miao areas. The Duliu River was our link to Guangxi and Guangdong. And even though it was hard to get to a place like Zhaoxing, it was easier than getting to Kaili or any of the other Miao places. That's why the Dong are still more civilized than the Miao. It's funny, because now the situation is reversed. Now transportation to the Miao areas is more convenient, because of roads and railroads. Kaili has become a big, culturally developed city. But in the countryside, the Miao are still uncivilized because of their history. Not only had this cadre's attitude been supported by state policy which defines minzu categories according to cultural distance from the Han, but also by the tourism industry which legitimized Zhaoxing's claim as a civilized place.

Tourism had also become a factor in building a sense of place which set itself apart from other Dong villages in the region. Several villagers told me, for example, that in terms of customs and traditions, there wasn't much difference between Zhaoxing and Gaozeng, but that since the fire in 1988 Gaozeng had become "more like the Han." One went further, saying that Gaozeng was culturally "backward" compared to Zhaoxing. He claimed that many of Gaozeng's musicians and dancers had learned their art in Zhaoxing. "Historically, it has always been this way," he said, "so it makes sense that Zhaoxing has become the more important tourist site. Zhaoxing is the true heart of Dong culture."

Most importantly, though, tourism had given village leaders a way to embrace modernity without losing their traditions, a way to insure that Zhaoxing remain an authentically Dong place. I asked the head of the cultural bureau whether village youth were becoming less interested in traditional songs and dances. He was emphatic that this was not the case and, if anything, "it's more popular now than it ever was." He went on to say that,

As this place progresses and becomes more developed, people learn the value of their traditions, and they work harder to support them. There is no contradiction between progress and preserving tradition. On the contrary, modernization will help us keep our minzu customs, because our development plan is now based on our traditions. Tourism is a very big part of this. It has encouraged us to work with the elders in the village, the elders association, to relearn the old ways which were almost forgotten. This makes the elders very happy; they support this kind of development. They support the tourism plan for Zhaoxing. And did the youth support it? I asked. Aren't they itching for change? He said that although this was true in many places "like Gaozeng," tourism had taught the youth of Zhaoxing to respect their traditions. Although I noticed a certain degree of ambivalence regarding this last point among the young people with whom I spoke, they at least seemed more conscious of the issue than their counterparts in Gaozeng.

Tourism and local identity

Obviously tourism in Zhaoxing, not to mention Gaozeng, has not reached the commercial level necessary to commoditize place or ethnicity in the manner discussed by Britton (1991) and MacCannell (1984). It remains to be seem what increased numbers of tourists, revenues, and the potential intrusion of outside opportunists will bring. It may be premature to conclude that the secure sense of place expressed in Zhaoxing won't become displaced with the intensified commercialism tourism is capable of generating. But it seems equally premature to assume that tourism leaves in its wake a placeless landscape. What the cases of Gaozeng and Zhaoxing should illustrate is not so much the relatively benign role played by tourism in its earliest stages of development, but the way the experience of tourism becomes a fundamental component of people's senses of place and ethnic identity. By providing a sketch of the broader historical processes in which these villages have been situated--namely a frontier history of conflict with the imperial Chinese administration, a minzu identity defined according to cultural distance from the Han Chinese, and a commercial tourist industry driven by the ideal of cultural authenticity--I have tried to argue that local identity is always conditioned by a dynamic tension between extra-local forces and local traditions. Tourism is the latest (and probably most intense) manifestation of these broader forces to become appropriated by a local cultural discourse of identity and meaning. Conceiving of tourism as an adopted component of a local culture's internal dynamics of on-going change, rather than a force bearing down upon locals while remaining beyond their grasp, yields a more accurate view of the situation, and urges a reevaluation of the belief that tourism is simply another cog in the wheel of modernization's steamroller.

Despite the obvious difficulties villagers face in gaining both fair economic compensation for their participation in tourist activities and inclusion in the broader administrative decision-making process, tourism plays an important social and cultural role which cannot be dismissed as purely negative. In China, where the central state remains overly sensitive to the unhealthy vestiges of "local nationalism" or any claims which challenge its definitions of minzu status or the virtues of modernization and "cultural development" in the direction of the Han, tourism provides local minority groups with a forum for making claims about themselves and the places they live in. This has certainly been the case in Gaozeng as villagers attempt to reject the label of "Hanification" and regain a lost sense of authenticity. In Zhaoxing, a similar attitude was expressed in that despite the increased infrastructural integration in the Miao areas, Dong places were still more civilized. Similar situations can be found in other parts of Guizhou. I would not doubt they exist throughout the rest of China. Clearly, as Gaozeng's experience also illustrates, villagers are highly vulnerable to the whims of the commerce of authenticity. This does not mean, however, that they do not themselves participate in this commerce and understand that, even amid the risks, they stand to benefit from it a great deal.

1  Field work for this study was conducted during 1993-94.  The author greatfully acknowledges the financial support of the National Science Foundation and the Committee on Scholarly Communication with China, and the assistance of Guizhou Normal University and the Qiandongnan Tourism Bureau.  Thanks also to James Bell, Stevan Harrell, Michel Picard, and Robert Wood for comments on earlier versions of this chapter.

2 "Minzu" may be translated as either "nationalty" or "ethnic group," but has no real equivalent in English.  In this chapter I have chosen to follow a growing convention among those studying ethnicity in China and leave the term untranslated.

3 Wen Yidou, introducing a collection of folksongs from Hunan, Guizhou, and Yunnan, wrote:  "You say these [poems] are primitive and savage.  You are right, and that is just what we need today.  We've been civilized too long, and now that we have nowhere left to go we shall have to pull out the last and purest card, and release the animal nature that has lain dormant in us for several thousand years, so that we can bite back (cited in Spence 1981, 317).

4  Stalin's four criteria for nationality identification were: "common language, common territory, common economic life, and a typical cast of mind manifested in a common culture" (Heberer 1989, 30).

5  Most Chinese ethnic theme parks only contain a selection of China's 56 minzu groups.  According to Harrell (personal correspondence), the major factor determining a group's inclusion in these parks is the visual distinctiveness of their architecture.

6  For a more complete account of tourism development in Guizhou see Oakes (1995).

7  These criteria are:  1) convenient transportation; 2) distinctive architecture, unique customs, and picturesque landscape; 3) ability of villagers to accommodate tourists at any time; 4) recognition as an important site for local festivals; 5) support of village leadership.

8  These schemes are often initiated with the aid of metropolitan advocates who, after having visited the village as tourists, become caught up in helping with village development projects.

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