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Rural tourism in Lijiang, China, and its impact upon the local minority communities.


To a large extent, the role of tourism in China's ethnic regions, which constitute 66% of its overall territory, is often associated with the purpose of facilitating the local economic growth (McKhann, 1998; Pan, 2002), improving infrastructure system (Zhang, et al, 1999), alleviating poverty, and further promoting the advantages of the central government's socialist doctrine (Richter, 1989; Sofield & Li, 1998). Throughout its vast rural regions, particularly in those poverty-stricken areas, the Chinese government plays a decisive role in producing positive changes in many aspects (Su, 2011), for tourism has been warmly embraced by the Chinese officials at all levels as a powerful economic engine that fulfils their ambitions. The authority's influence upon tourism in ethnic regions is mostly channelled through regulating investment, commoditising the ethnic culture, controlling production and sustaining consumption (Swain, 1990, 1995; Oakes, 1995, 1997, 1998; McKhann, 1998). In this regard, tourism in China has been overly burdened with too many political, social and, economic commissions to the extent that its essential attributes have been obscured (Tisdell & Wen, 1991; Wen, 1998; White, 1998). Nevertheless, this over-loaded attribute provides a unique perspective to view wide-range of social phenomenon.

Generally, the problems that arise within ethnic regions include those of political control, assimilation, less empowerment, discrimination, exploitation, economic impoverishment, and cultural degradation of the ethnic culture (MacCannell, 1984; Swain, 1990, 1995; Oakes, 1995, 1997, 1998; Lew, 2004; Yang, Wall & Smith, 2006; Yang & Bramwell, 2008;). Among those issues, the most pressing one is the uneven distribution of tourism wealth between the coastal and interior regions of the country (Wen, 1998). This unequal circulation of wealth has also escalated the social disparity both between the Chinese people and the minorities, who mainly dwell in coastal and inland areas; and between urban and rural residents as well. For instance, in 1994, the coastal areas obtained 86.5% of tourism incomes and 81.2% of all tourist arrivals in China (Wen, 1998). Thus, economic wealth has been disproportionately concentrated in the coastal area, while more than half of the most favoured tourist attractions are actually located inland.

Another issue in minority regions revolves around ethnic identity (Swain, 1990; Oakes, 1997; Lew, 2004). Local identity is influenced by state-sponsored tourism through forms of promotions, preservations, and the tourism activities marketing. Religion, ethnic traditions, as well as arts and crafts are not promoted or valued unless they are regarded as a part of entire segment that makes-up the diversity of Chinese culture. The third concern is in reference to the activities of the tourism industry. According to MacCannell (1984), Swain (1995), Oakes (1995, 1998), and Wen (1998) minority cultures are exposed to tourism for the sake of the economy, with no serious regards towards any long-term socio-cultural consequences. The growth of tourism is heavily focused on economic values to the extent to which the commodification of ethnic culture becomes the major characteristic of the industry in minority regions.

Moreover, given that many ethnic groups do not control the major share of the revenue (Swain, 1990, 1995), the role of tourism in ethnic regions becomes reduced to an 'enticement', that is attracting public and private investment to commoditise the minority cultures, landscapes and the ethnic groups themselves in order to quench the minority elite's desire to be modernised (Oakes, 1998). Stanley (1998) argues that minorities are nothing more than the 'hard currency' and 'symbolic capital' for the Chinese government to propagate their assertion that 'the equal status and autonomous rights' of the ethnic groups are maintained under party leadership.

Be that as it may, studies carried out throughout ethnic regions in China demonstrate that, despite the situations mentioned above, a large proportion of the minority groups engage in tourism business with the effort and commitment throughout the process for improving living standards and other social movements (Lemcine, 1989; Swain, 1995; Oake, 1998; Xie, 2003). Most of the minorities that they have examined have a very strong will to communicate with tourists, and most are from other parts of China where the economy is relatively developed, and proudly expresses their minority culture in many ways. Although a number of researchers advocate the imperativeness of developing community-based tourism in a variety of circumstances (Richards & Hall, 2000; Timothy, 2002; Murphy & Murphy, 2004; Weaver & Lawton, 2010), certain papers (Li, 2006; Simpson, 2008), on the contrary, signal that the ownership and involvement of a community is not a paramount factor to secure to these any benefits from tourism development. Therefore, it is necessary to establish a detailed account in which the minority groups' loses and gains in the growth of tourism development can be, firstly, scrutinised so that the attributes of tourism can be unfolded comprehensively, and, secondly, updated through the evaluation of minority people's own perspectives.

The studied ethnic group is called Naxi, which live in the Lijiang area, in Yunnan province, southwest of China. Since the mid 1990s, the Lijiang government started to embrace tourism as a major economic resource, which immensely encouraged improvements in urban as well as some of the vast rural areas. This action achieved remarkable economic progress over a decade, between 1996 and 2007 (see Figure 1).


Between these years, Lijiang has been visited, on average by 3.09 million tourists annually, generating more than half of the local GDP. The economic boom has been escalated by the acquired World Heritage Site (WHS) status of The Old Town of Lijiang (Dayanzhen) in 1997, and then accelerated by the other WHS approvals: Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Area in 2003, and the Dongba Pictograph Manuscripts as the World Memorial Heritage List in 2006 (Li, 2007). The latest figures in tourist arrivals and tourist revenue during 2009 are 7.58 million tourists, and $1.34 billion, which accounts for 43.5% of the local total gross output (Lijiang Tourism Bureau Online Database, 2011).

Although, the impacts of tourism in Lijiang have been carried out by researchers both from China and abroad (Street, 2005; Yang, Ding & Ge, 2005; Su & Teo, 2008), very few articles specifically studied the rural areas in depth. The discussion of tourism is largely restricted to urban regions without scrutinizing its impact on rural areas, where 83.72% of the local population dwells (Mathieu, 2003). Both, the perspective and attitudes on tourism of the locals have been largely missing. An understanding of their vision is paramount for the evaluation of tourism development in Lijiang as a whole. As a result, this study concentrates on the interaction between the Naxi farmers and the tourism business in rural regions, and will particularly evaluate the stance and outlook of the locals in Shuhe village, their community and daily life.

In Shuhe Village where tourism has recently invaded the villagers' daily life, evaluating their stance and outlook towards the impacts of tourism upon their community and life.


The research is based on qualitative and ethnographic techniques, which is constituted of participant observation, unstructured interview, case study, and historical analysis based on documents (Seale, et al. 2004), thus offering the researcher a better chance to construct a 'contextual understanding' of social settings including social customs, traditions, values, and other phenomena (Bryman, 1988). The data has been collected from a four month long field study, conducted between January and April 2008. To deliver an insightful account of the local life or a 'thick description' in Geertz's term (1977), the researcher immersed himself in the rural life of the Naxi farmers in depth, by way of watching things happen around them, listening to their discussions, asking them questions both formally and informally, and recoding data on notebooks for later analysis.

Throughout the field study, participant observations and in-depth interviews were both used to firstly, understand the locals' life cycles, the value of their daily routine activities, and secondly,, to acquire their views in relation to research topics, thus they were asked whether they welcome tourism, if they thought tourism was needed, and what was the main change that they have experienced from undertaking tourism business. Many observations have been, thus, integrated with informal conversations, as through these the respondents felt more convenient to express their thoughts openly. Moreover, most of these informal talks were conducted in a variety of venues, from fields to hearth, from shops to living rooms, where the respondents were not feeling as isolated as in original settings.

The fieldwork was mainly based in Lijiang downtown and in one village called Shuhe, which is located four km away from the town centre (see Fig. 2). The reason of choosing the town centre as one of the key research venues for this rural-concerned study was because it is the place where most of the farmers working in the tourism industry as migrant employees are concentrated during tourism peak seasons, so that some interviews had to be conducted either in their shops, or during their break times.


Also, it is the central platform on which most tourism activities are based. After a preliminary examination of the Shuhe Village, the researcher selected twenty Naxi families according to the research criteria, e.g. close to tourist routes, operating tourism or established tourism related businesses, having members working outside the village as migrant workers in the tourism industry, etc. In addition, the researcher also attended five social and religious events with permission, such as family parties, festivals, dances for tourists, social gatherings and farming activities, where the observations and informal conversations carried out proved prior convenient for targeted respondents.

Apart from observations, in-depth interviews have also been carried with the farmers, craftsmen and shopkeepers, with whom the researcher has had the opportunity to stay. In each visiting venue, the interview did not take until a substantial rapport has been achieved with the would-be interviewees. The interview sample was based on a 'snowball' strategy so that one interviewee introduced the researcher to another who met the researcher's selecting criteria, such as the working experience in the tourism sector and the actual feeling from the contact with tourists. With this strategy, each interviewee's knowledge of their surroundings had been taken into account (Kneafsey, 2001). The total completed 18 in-depth interviews were then analysed according to their responses to the growth of tourism and the attitude towards incurred difficulties and problems. Apart from these 18 interviewed farmers, the researcher also discussed relevant issues with two Naxi entrepreneurs from the local tourism industry and two Naxi officials from the local government responsible for tourism planning and management, so that the researcher can evaluate the farmers' perspective from another angle.

Main findings

Tourism expansion and its modification in urban/rural division

By and large, Lijiang has benefited from this unprecedented economic boom in many respects. The first value of the tourist income is that the government's financial strength has been substantially fortified. Secondly, a number of socioeconomic constructions in the public sector have been implemented with the increasing financial strength. The third gain is the confidence engendered by such huge market potential from tourism growth. This has attracted a variety of investments either from the public sector, such as from the national or provincial finance, or from the private sector, such as Dingye Company, an estate developer and tourism enterprise in Shuhe Village, which has mainly been based on the promising performance of Lijiang's tourism and its enormous market potential.

All the interviewees and respondents, who had informal conversations with the researcher admitted that the local government has played a decisive role in promoting Lijiang's tourism business, performing it very well. A farmer in his late fifties made a representative comment in this sense:

'Without the government initiative, we wouldn't have known tourism at all. It is the best thing (developing tourism) they have done, and I am truly grateful for their decision.'

However, the government's 'magic' performance has a profound historical reason behind it. Traditionally, Lijiang's total economic output is largely constrained by its topographic features, as only 5% of its territory is flat land, at an average of 3,000 metres above sea-level. It used to rank as the second last poorest region in Yunnan province in 1980s (The Year Book of Yunnan Economy, 1999), given that 70% of its local economy relied on the income derived from forest industry. Unfortunately, this leading finance source dried out in 1998 due to the prohibition of deforestation by the central government in response to the disastrous flood of the God Sand River in the same year (Lin, 2003). The local government was cornered by this unexpected circumstance and rendered all attempts in other economic domains to fail. A local official revealed:

'Were it not for tourism, we wouldn't have known how to run the administration at all, because we don't have enough finance to do it!'

Nevertheless, the government's authority does not offset the importance of another factor: its grassroots support, which is critical in rural tourism found in other countries (Chow, 1980; Kneafsey, 2001; Simpson, 2008; Polo & Frias, 2010). In relation to the Naxi positive vision of tourism development, Su and Teo (2008) noted in their study of Lijiang that: 'Tourism development would not have been so rapid if it had not been embraced by grassroots representatives as well.' To encourage local residents to participate in tourism development, the government issued a number of favourable policies including tax deduction, lower rental for souvenir shops, training and other supports. A Naxi craftsman who has been selling wooden carvings in Lijiang for twelve years claimed:

'I used to be a carpenter; it is tourism that has changed my job and even my entire life completely. I'm one of the earliest people to sell wood carvings in the old town. I like tourists and I need them to be here (laughter). Also, I think they need us as well, because we are part of the place they visit ...'

Same as this Naxi farmer-carpenter-artist, a large number of locals from rural and urban regions respectively have engaged in the tourism industry. All interviewees and visited family members proved that around 80% of the local youth has been working in urban and suburban regions, and most of their jobs were tourism-related positions (e.g. security and cleaning staff in hotels, waiting staff in restaurants, mini-cab drivers, vendors) while a few of them have even opened their own little business selling hand-made souvenirs or food. This positive gain is well documented by public sources. For instance 16% of the 657,600 Lijiang labour forces were associated with this industry; within the Old Town District, where most of the tourist activities were located, this figure was up to 41.6% of the total labour forces; each million RMB (=US$ 0.15 million) of tourist consumption created 34.25 employment positions on average, and 13% of the local income was from the tourism industry (Lijiang Annals of Statistics, 2008; Xinhua News Network, 2008).

The data acquired from the twenty families that had been visited, showed that the annual income of each household has increased between three and six times on average over the past decade, which is far less than the figure in Zhang's (2003) study, illustrated an increase of 9.5 times. The deviation in number might be caused by a variety of reasons, but it cannot overshadow the economic success over the past decade, which has been overwhelmingly acknowledged by all the informants. Overall, the officials welcome tourism, as it increased their local finance, as well as the inhabitants, as it ensured them progress in life. Tourism has, thus, been warmly embraced by the local people at all levels.

Meanwhile, this huge economic potential has been grasped by local governments to escalate their social progress. Lijiang's tourism has become a well-planned industry largely run by the public sector from the outset, bearing hallmarks of the government's strategies in many aspects, from implementing policies to managing operations, from distributing finance to training carders. These characteristics have been noticed in China's other ethnic rural areas (Lemcine, 1989; Oakes, 1995; Cater, 2000; Harrison, 2001b; Lew, 2004; Fletcher, 2005). However, one distinctive feature found in Lijiang that has not yet been fully discussed is that this massive infrastructural expansion has partially modified China's long-lasting urban/rural dichotomy.

In 1956, the Lijiang government instructed by the central authority, launched the 'hukou' system, which meant 'household registration system' (Hussain, 2008). The implementation of the policy was mainly due to the inadequate social provisions of the time. A large number of rural migrants were held back from moving into urban areas, where resources like: subsidised food supplies, clean water, electric power, medicine and free medical treatment were channeled. This policy also excluded rural people from enjoying other social provisions that have been put into effect since 1980s, e.g. better public health and hygiene facilities, social insurance, working in state-owned factories, and free mandatory education (9 years compulsory). With the involvement of tourism, however the situation of social division has been modified at different degrees across the regions.

More rural residents, in particular those living in suburban areas, were included into an amended process allowing them to share the provision of social benefits from which they had been previously excluded. The government had invested over US$76 million on infrastructural projects (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2009), greatly improving the conditions of public transport, the power and water supply, communication networks and the sewage system, public health supply, and other facility provisions across urban and suburban rural regions. Many locals, in particular those residents who live in tourist regions benefit from the unprecedented public investments in social infrastructure such as: hospitals, the mobile telecommunication network, and roads leading to major tourist attractions, which were initially for the convenience of tourists. An interviewee's comment has reflected this progress:

'In the past several decades, or even centuries, life in rural areas has been cruel and hard. Everyone wanted to leave for towns. But now, I'm very satisfied while the changes made by the government. We have TV set, washing machine, and the road right in front of my home leading to other places. Some visitors from big cities told me that my life is even better than theirs. All this was impossible to think about ten years ago.' (A man in his forties)

The profound value of this advancement resides in that the distribution of social wealth no longer follows previous political arrangements, in which the urban residents are privileged over the rural residents; rather it now follows much more closely with tourist demands and travelling features, which cross urban and rural boundaries irregularly (see Fig. 3). This progress indicates that when tourism is proposed on a large scale, and over a long period of time, the influence of the public sector upon such expansion would give way to the needs of the tourism industry itself, which is hardly in line with the government's initial preference.


To understand the long-term implication of this socio-economic movement, two further points should be taken into account. Firstly, compared with White (1997), who ascertains that Chinese modernity is marked by the economic progress in Chinese ethnic regions, the case of Lijiang denotes that this improvement is not purposely installed for the interest of the rural residents dwelling in tourism-affected areas, but rather for the convenience of the visiting tourists. Secondly, this social expansion is still largely limited to areas immediately surrounding the urban area. The trajectory of this tourists-funded wealth is well in line with the flow of tourists, extending from urban centres to surrounding suburban areas. The radiation of the tourist related facilities and consequent improvements are far from substantial. For those farmers who live in remote mountain areas, there is still a very long way to go before they are included into the benefits bestowed by the tourism industry. This indicates that the tourism strategy is not implemented entirely in line with the local economic situation per se, but according to the characteristics of tourism business in the first place and only secondly according to the political considerations of government. Nonetheless, this situation signals that the future social progress in Lijiang's rural areas will be, to some extent, subject to tourists' movements, e.g. their travelling patterns, length of stay, and consumptions in the years to come.

To a certain extent, the expansion of tourism in Lijiang is moving the local society away from its previous dichotomised state, and more towards a varied social layout consisting of a central urban area, an economically developed rural area, and a more traditional rural hinterland. The influence of Lijiang's tourism in the social context suggests a clearer route representative of the comment that 'tourists are agents of social change' (Harrison, 2001a). It also provides an updated account for other relevant research in which the social disparity in China's minority regions has been explored (Swain, 1995; Oakes, 1997; Wen, 1998; White, 1998). Moreover, such uneven development has also entailed a shift from more privileged Chinese people and urban minority locals against the less privileged rural minority, to one in which there is now a four-part distinction between urban Chinese people and urban minority, and the rural minority and incoming migrants all becoming involved in tourism business.

Tourism expansion at Shuhe Village

Nonetheless, this rapid development had indeed caused certain conflicts which have not been carefully assessed in other studies. For instance, the highly praised so-called 'Shuhe Model' by the local authority was on the contrary widely criticised by many of the interviewed locals over entrusting a commercial company to manage Shuhe as a whole, operating the village as one business.

Shuhe Village is just four kilometres away from Dayanzhen, it consists of four sub-villages: Longquan, Kaiwen, Huangshan, and Zhongji, with a total population of 9,957 people in 2,450 households. The core visiting part for tourists was confined to an area of 3 square kilometres, inhabited by 1,000 households. In view of the increase tourist business, a tourist project was approved by the Lijiang authority in May 2003, to have a new ancient-style village built next to the core visiting area in Shuhe. A real estate company from Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province, Dingye Company, signed a cooperation contract with the local authority.

The project consisted of two parts, scheduled to be completed until 2010. The first finished part had cost US$18 million, including a 150,000 m2 buildings for shops, bars, guesthouses, theme parks and leisure areas, for renting or purchasing; a 1.1 kilometres-long road connecting Shuhe with Dayanzhen, as well as a 6 kilometres-long stone paved main streets in the village. It also includes installing 7.1 kilometres-long underground cable and pipe systems within the core visiting area of the village, including the cables of power, television and communication, water and drainage pipes system, and renovating a number of heritage sites and some residential buildings with historic values. The second part was under construction, including an international bar street, a number of high standard villas and several super five-star hotels, expected to be finished in 2010. At the time of writing, the local informants advised the writer that this project has not yet completed.

According to the report obtained from the Shuhe Village Committee and the conversations with the informants living in the village, this tourist project had achieved significant economic progress. As mentioned above, the average household income has been growing over the past decade, and five informants emphasised that just in the past three years, their annual income had increased by 4.38 times. Meanwhile, in the village had been formed several Naxi music bands playing music for tourists as a free entertainment. This project was appraised by the local authority as a successful 'Shuhe Model', combining tourism development with the social progress of the rural community. This 'government plus corporation plus farmers' model in Su's (2011) term was portrayed by the national and local media as a successful project of which the local farmers could get benefits, alleviating poverty, improving living standards, and becoming a successful model influencing farmers to live around and to follow their route.

Despite this astonishing economic achievement, the project caused some disputes, which any of the interviewed officials would like to admit. According to the interviewed 11 local peasants in Shuhe, 9 of them confirmed that they were forced to sell their land to the local authority for, as they described, 'an unacceptable price'. The average price they sold was US$2,276 per Mu of land, whereas the price of each Mu sold in Dayanzhen suburbs, just 4 or 6 kilometres away, was US$10,622, over 4.7 times of the price they were sold. When the researcher raised the question of selling the land at low prices to the officers of the village committee, they kindly replied that the price was approved by the Lijiang government.

Though the researcher had stayed in the village for nearly three months, it was still very hard to get detailed information about how many farmers or families had been seriously affected by this project, because the village committee refused to provide relevant information, and suggested the researcher make enquiry to the senior concerned department. Meanwhile, several local contacts have advised the researcher that the land issue was very sensitive and very hard to get first-hand information. Consequently, regarding the examination of the land issue in Shuhe, it can only concentrate on the data acquired from the interviewed 11 local farmers in the village and some incidental information obtained through other sources during the field work in Lijiang. Overall, farmers raised their challenges not to tourism development per se, but to the benefits that they claimed have lost in the process, e.g. low price of selling their land, polluted water system, limited employment opportunities, management style of Dingye Company and the composition of tourists.

In the first place, the issue of expropriating farm land for the tourism project was the primary concern of the villagers. Although in China, no one privately owns land, farmers would get economic compensation if their land were expropriated by government. What they really angered was that the government resold their land to a commercial company at 'a very high price', as they claimed, without giving them a share. They thought that they have been excluded from this land transaction. In addition, they were very upset that this change in land use was given by the authority without any proper negotiation, let alone informing them the plan of using the land for tourism purpose. One farmer in his forty challenged:

'The government sold our land to the company (Dingye) without our permission. This is our means of living. Yet the central government has banned expropriating farmers' land from commercial use. No one discussed this tourism project with us in advance. We did not have any information about this project until they told us how much land we need to sell. Whenever they made a new rule, the only thing we could do is 'to cut our feet (interest) to fit the shoes (policy).'

Admittedly, land issue has been very critical in rural tourism development, not just in China (Ying & Zhou, 2007) but also in other regions (Canoves, et al, 2004; Polo & Frias, 2010). Different from Briedenhann and Wickens' (2004) research, those rural communities are sometimes too desperate to accept any development proposals; the villagers in Shuhe did not have any choice but giving away their land. This rectifies Ying and Zhou's (2007) point that in China, there is no legal support to protect farmers' exclusive right of using their land to develop tourism. This institutional failure not just devalues farmers' land in price but also degrades the environment in certain circumstances and diminishes, in due course, the credibility of the Dingye Company, the delegate of the imposed capital-led management system.

For instance, several villagers living in the downstream of the river that run through the village complained that the river has been polluted by those restaurants and guesthouses built in newly developed part of the village. According to the writer's observation, the usage of water has been a sensitive issue across Lijiang (Cater, 2000; McKhann, 2001; Cai, 2005) between those migrant business people, mainly the Han, coming from other parts of China, and the local inhabitants, the Naxi, who respect river as not just the source of drinking water, but also the place where their spirits reside.

Besides, the company was also challenged by the villagers regarding their role in managing Shuhe as a tourist attraction, placing the company's economic gain at their primary concern. This so-called 'Shuhe Model' was in fact mixing a commercial enterprise's economic power with administrative supremacy, granting the company an extra authority to run the village on its own. This corporation-led or capital-centred management was strongly disputed in particular by shopkeepers in the old part of the village, who were more in a vulnerable situation.

In 2004, according to the businessmen's statements, the business was very good. Dingye advertised Shuhe in Kunming and other cities widely. Unfortunately, after selling out most of the properties in the market, Dingye moved its attention on to entrance fee, a new means of extracting revenue as a reward for their earlier marketing effort. Viewing more tourists came to the village, the company decided in August 2004 to charge visitors US$4.5 for entering the village. Some shop owners revealed that this policy dramatically reduced the number of visitors. The shop owners in the old section were particularly angry, one man in his late fifties emphasising that:

'We came here much earlier than Dingye, they only in charge the development of the new part. They didn't build the old one at all, why do they have the right to charge the tourists? The village has been here for many hundred years. It should be free for all tourists.'

In response to this, no sooner had the policy came into being, than the majority of the shopkeepers closed their shops to show their grievance. The dispute was partly resolved by placing a box office outside each village entrance with a notice saying 'welcome to pay entrance fee'. However, no one would stop visitors if they did not pay the fee. With this notice-board, the most affected visitors were individual tourists, who did not know the struggles behind the scene. It considerably affected their visiting desire, leaving the group tourists remained lest affected, whose payment has been charged as a part of their tour expense; and whose visiting was mainly pre-arranged by travel companies and the local authority. Subsequently, the composition of the visitors to the village was dominated by group tourists.

During the time of the field study, a massive resentment in the shopkeepers in the old section was triggered by Dingye's another policy that the newly-built part should take priority over the old part. This situation arose because Dingye, as the exclusive investor and the largest contributor for promoting the village, had the authority and means to manipulate the visiting routes for group tourists via the new section. To convince the shopkeepers in the new section with a prosperous scene, all the local tour-guides in Lijiang have been instructed by the local tourism bureau that from the first day of 2008, all tours must enter Shuhe from the main entrance at the new section, otherwise the tour-guides would not get a stamp for reimbursement. The informants from the old section of the village grumbled that the number of tourists entering from the old part has declined significantly since the opening of the project in 2004; the newly imposed diversion was simply optimised the company's share of the tourism business at their expense. One shopkeeper in his fifty condemned:

'This diversion is attempting to drive us away. We cannot do business in the old part any longer. This policy is a serious discrimination that is treating us unfairly. Actually, our opening time is already much shorter than those in the new part, because they have evening dancing parties at each summer evening. So they've got illumination until 11pm and we got nothing after the day is getting dark.'

Nonetheless, the grievance was not just between the people in the new and old parts of the village, but also within the new section alone. As Simpson (2008, p.11) argues that 'a community rarely acts as a single unified entity' when it concerned their interest. In regard to the change in visitor composition, different villagers had their own views. Those who selling souvenirs, ethnic clothes and jade carvings were in favour of this strategy because Shuhe was still a less popular place and not many people knew about it. A commission-based ticket selling would encourage travel companies, taxi drivers and local guides to promote Shuhe vigorously. Secondly, comparing with grouped tourists, they regarded the individual tourists as low-value in consumption, describing them as idling at the guesthouse and drinking a cup of tea or coffee only, which hardly contributed to the survival of Shuhe's current 300 shops.

On the contrary, those people in accommodation and catering sectors strongly opposed this claim. They also argued that as most of the group tourists stayed in Dayanzhen rather in Shuhe, their visiting in Shuhe was too short to be regarded as invaluable. Some souvenir shopkeepers complained that the visiting time of the group tourists had been shortened due to their overloaded itinerary arrangements. In addition, they added that when the business was more dependent on grouped tourists, another weakness emerged, which was the interference of tour-guides. Shopkeepers who did not pay a commission to the tour-guides would find that their businesses were disturbed by them in one way or another.

Last but not least, those shopkeepers whose business mainly depended on individual tourists noticed their business was jeopardised by another matter, which was the public transport service in Shuhe. Though Shuhe was only four-kilometres away from Dayanzhen, there was no bus service between the two places. Two years ago, according to the informants, there used to be bus services, but the local taxi drivers disapproved. An individual tourist needed to get in a minivan to Shuhe, which were all run by Shuhe villagers. The shop owners and the minivan drivers were in conflict over the provision of the bus services. Drivers declared that it would disapprove their participation of tourism business, whereas the shopkeepers argued that it was a fundamental provision for the convenience of tourists, which happened to be thwarted by the minivan owners. Meanwhile, Dingye Company took advantage of this dispute by not proposing any transport development, which lest affect grouped tourists who had had their own means of transport, thereby avoiding the tensions between the company and the farmer-drivers who sought to control local transport.


To sum up, tourism in Lijiang, though embraced through the active participation of a large number of small and private business enterprises, is exclusively under the government's control. The tourism industry has been managed by the local authority as the main economic engine to enable local economic and social development to catch up with national trends. The contribution of tourism in Lijiang is not only in the provision of a base for improving the economic situation of local residents but also in some degree of modification of China's urban/rural dichotomised social structure by channelling more socioeconomic benefits to the rural areas. A number of rural farmers have been able to benefit from this economic growth and social modification.

Nevertheless, this improvement is principally confined to suburban areas, leaving the vast remote mountainous region for subsequent economic expansion, which denotes that the characteristics of future tourism development in China's ethnic regions will play a part in shaping oncoming social development to certain extent. Thereby, to develop the 'right' type of tourism is critical to secure the positive outcome of approaching social advance. For instance, the case in Lijiang proves that the trajectory of tourism wealth conforms to tourists' movement. Similarly is the case for a small village, the more tourists coming to visit, the higher chance they obtain tourists-fund wealth, e.g. improved transport, subsidised accommodation upgrade and other kinds of government support. Therefore, facing well organised tourists groups in large number will be much more easily for a village community to convince their senior government to endorse financial support compared with small number of high-end individual ecotourists.

Meanwhile, the paper provides insightful understanding of the Chinese government's role in ethnic rural regions. The mass grouped travel is not only manipulated by the government to enhance the local economy but also it is a mechanism to control it. The happenings in Lijiang indicates that the government's influence in China's ethnic regions is not just confine to controlling capital, investment, operations and consumption (Swain, 1990; Oakes, 1997; McKhann, 1998; Sofield and Li, 1998; Wen, 1998; White, 1998; Lew, 2004), but exceeds to taking advantage of the particular characteristics of mass-groups tourism as a means to consolidate their command in management.

The paper also argues that because the primary purpose of developing tourism in Lijiang is to improve people's socioeconomic conditions, which is mainly agreed by the government and the community as a whole, thereby the distribution of tourism-related wealth is thus becoming the key focus for people to evaluate the changes that occurred. Many conflicts are thus either associated with the government's capital-led policy or top-down management model. Developing tourism business becomes a matter of 'controlling' or 'being controlled'. Although Li's (2006) and Simpson's (2008) studies document that rural communities can benefit from tourism growth without participation in place, their investigations fail to answer the questions that whether the communities in question have been granted all or at least most of the benefits they are entitled? Whether the long-term costs of development exceed the benefits enjoyed by the communities?

As Ying and Zhou (2007) argue that the community's participation is paramount for developing tourism in China's rural areas. This study shows that the community's vigorous involvement is not only displayed in owning their land, but also in controlling their business and accessing the market. Although the government does possess the ownership of land in the current institutional context, a breakthrough requires that the public sector, and those commercial units which are playing a role on behalf of the public sector, both need to take a comprehensive outlook that embedded with a negotiation process that can take into account the interests of all private players involved. It suggests that although it is unlikely to exclude external capital or private enterprises from large-scale tourism projects, an interest-base institutional mechanism that ensures that benefits are evenly distributed, must be implemented before operation commences. Otherwise the rural communities need to solve the issue of representativeness primarily, which means who can fairly negotiate with government and the private sector on their behalf over the issues of distributing benefits and allocating resources. This issue is more fundamental and crucial than the consideration of learning skills as a mechanism to develop tourism.

Last but not least, the profound social consequences aroused by Lijiang's tourism expansion require a further examination in political context, calling for a substantial reform in the sphere. The current political system in Lijiang has constrained any adequate response to various incidents. In this respect, as Tisdell (1997) points out, the rigid political institution become a liability standing in the way of the community's further social progress. Pending the political structure will be amended by substantial reforms, the condition of Lijiang's tourism will remain unchanged.

Received February 18, 2011. Resubmitted March 22, 2011


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Author:Zheng, Xie
Publication:Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jun 1, 2011
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