The Impact of Tourism on Attitudes in Tibetan Regions

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2012-07-04 15:19
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As China carries out a nationwide campaign to “get into communities, rectify the style of work, and change the style of writing,” the Investigation and Study Group of Qiushi magazine traveled to A’ba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, a Tibetan region in Sichuan Province, to conduct a survey into how local attitudes have been affected by the development of tourism in Tibetan regions. The research group visited Shangmo Village of Shanba Township, Muchang Village and Chuanzigou Village of Chuanzhusi Town in Songpan, Yongzhu Village of Zhangzha Town in Jiuzhaigou County, and Shuzhengzhai Village under the Jiuzhaigou Administration, where it engaged with local farmers, herdsmen and grassroots cadres, surveyed the local tourism industry, and experienced first-hand how the attitudes of the general public in Tibetan regions have been affected by tourism.

Located in the southeastern part of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, A’ba Tibetan-Qiang Autonomous Prefecture is the second largest Tibetan region in Sichuan Province and home to the largest Qiang nationality community in China. With its evergreen alpine forests and clear blue waters, A’ba is an ideal location for tourism. Among its many unique natural landscapes are Jiuzhaigou, referred to as the “Fairyland,” Huanglong, which is dubbed the “Abode of Immortals,” and Siguniang Mountain, which is known to many as the “Holy Mountain of the East.” In recent years, the Party Committee and government of A’ba Prefecture have taken active steps to develop tourism in A’ba, formulating a strategy of turning the area into a world-class region for nature tourism. By putting the interests of the general public first, A’ba Prefecture has managed to make the tourism economy into a source of wealth for local residents. In doing so, it has ensured that ordinary people are the largest beneficiaries of the development of tourism in the prefecture. Having found an effective means of protecting natural landscapes whilst increasing the wealth of its local residents, A’ba has been praised by UN officials as “a world model” for the building of harmonious tourist areas and communities. In addition to bringing greater wealth and new ways of life to farmers and herdsmen in the region, the development of tourism has also exerted a profound influence on local attitudes as well.

First, new modes of production and new ways of living have allowed farmers and herdsmen to become a part of modern civilization. The development of tourism has gradually prompted an increasing number of people to move out of traditional industries such as farming and animal husbandry and take up employment in the service, logistics, and processing industries instead. Local tourism-related industries, such as souvenir companies, tourism transport companies, travel agencies, rural home inns, Tibetan-style home inns, hotels, and the sale of tourism-related goods, have witnessed robust development and constant increases in service standards. Nearly 80% of the residents of Zhangzha Town in Jiuzhaigou County are either directly or indirectly engaged in the tourism industry. Zhangzha Town has 93 hotels, 54 Tibetan-style inns, more than 600 shops, about 300 households with rooms to let and over 10,000 tourism workers. In 2010, the per capita net income reached 7,455 yuan. Of the 55 rural families that live in Chuanzigou Village, Chuanzhusi Town, some own hotels, restaurants and Tibetan-style home inns, some run shops, travel agencies or buses, and others work as tour guides or souvenir makers. Almost every family in the village is engaged in the tourism industry. Changes in modes of production have also brought about changes in ways of living. Local residents can often been seen wearing modern clothing instead of their cumbersome Tibetan garments. Eating habits have also changed, with local residents switching from a bland traditional diet of butter, barley flour, mutton, and beef to a much more diverse diet of wheat flour, meat and vegetables. The nomadic tents of the past have been replaced by various forms of permanent housing fully equipped with running water, flush toilets, gas stoves, televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, air-conditioners, telephones, mobile phones, and computers with internet connections. Moreover, modern means of transportation such as motor vehicles, cars, and sports utility vehicles have become alternatives to walking and horse-back transport. Local ethnic minority cultures have also flourished along with the development of tourism. Traditional festivals and celebrations such as the Jiarong Folk Dancing Festival, grassland horse racing, and song-singing contests have attracted throngs of people. In addition, the region has also given rise to a number of outstanding singers of minority background, such as Rongzhong’erjia, Purba Rayal, the “Plateau Sisters” and the “Halama Girls.” A number of Tibetan songs, such as Miraculous Jiuzhai and a Predestined Relationship with Jiuzhai, have become widely popular throughout the entire country.

Sanglang Nima, a resident of Ganbao Village in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, prepares fresh vegetables in the kitchen of her newly built home on January 13, 2012. Ganbao is a Tibetan village located in the southeast of Lixian County in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province. With more than 100 households of Tibetan descent, Ganbao is the largest Tibetan village in the Jiarong Tibetan Area. The village of Ganbao, with its strong Tibetan feel, was severely damaged during the Wenchuan Earthquake of 2008. The village has since been rebuilt following a two-year reconstruction effort organized by Hunan Province. Today, rows of new Tibetan-style houses can be seen lining the edges of the valley walls, and the residents of Ganbao have gone back to their happy and tranquil lives. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Li Qiaoqiao

Second, changes have occurred to the way that farmers and herdsmen interact with one another and their horizons are being widened on a daily basis. In the past, local residents in the Tibetan region used to live nomadic lives, their only companions being the livestock they herded. They tended to live in small social circles consisting primarily of relatives and neighbors. Now that local residents live in permanent homes and work in the tourism industry, they are able to come into contact with domestic tourists and foreign visitors from all corners of the world as soon as they open their doors. Isolated lifestyles have been replaced by much more open and social ways of living, and local residents have much broader horizons than they did in the past. In recent years, Chuanzigou Village has organized for villagers to pay fact-finding visits to Chengdu, Hainan, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. These visits have had a significant influence on the attitudes of the villagers. Zeze, Secretary of Party Branch of Zhangzha Village of Zhangzha Town, Jiuzhaigou County, organizes for villagers to pay fact-finding visits to developed regions every year. The villagers have been to 18 countries and regions so far. Lang Jiebo, a resident of Shuzhengzhai Village under the Jiuzhaigou Administration, has become well-off by dealing in tourism souvenirs. The walls of his home are covered with photographs of Lang and the numerous prominent national leaders that have visited his home. Li Yougen of Yongzhu Village told us that, “The best thing that tourism has given us is the spirit of helping and assisting one another. We used to be very poor in the past, so poor that no one was willing to lend anything to anybody, not even a pair of boots. Things are different now, and people even feel easy about lending each other money, not to mention boots.” One day during the survey, the research group encountered eight Tibetan girls herding yaks by the roadside. The girls greeted us warmly, and after answering some of our questions, invited us to join them in a traditional Tibetan dance. After the dance they joined us in a friendly group photo. The girls showed no signs of being unnatural or reserved when interacting with us; on the contrary, we were surprised by how poised, dignified, relaxed and easy going they were.

Third, the farmers and herdsmen have a yearning for knowledge and are attaching greater importance to education than they did in the past. As their horizons have become increasingly wide, farmers and herdsmen in Tibetan regions have begun to realize the importance of knowledge and education. Whereas in the past Zhangzha Town struggled to get children into schools, the biggest difficulty in education it now faces is the question of issuing certificates for local children attending non-local schools. In 2010, a total of 85 students from the town were attending schools in Chengdu, Mianyang and other places. Some were even studying at key provincial middle schools. Financial conditions permitting, parents in the town generally prefer to send their children to non-local schools with better schooling conditions. Zeze, Secretary of Party Branch of Zhangzha Village, sent his two daughters to attend school in Chengdu when they were young. In 2010, he sent his second daughter to study in Singapore. Another villager, Xili, has sent his second daughter to the United States to study. Li Yougen of Yongzhu Village has invested hundreds of thousands of yuan, savings from the proceeds of the home inn he runs, into the education of his children. His two children began their schooling in Chengdu. One has since graduated from the University of Electronic Science and Technology and found a job, while the other is still studying at the same university. Chuanzigou Village has run a night school for adults in the village primary school for many years. Courses on offer to local adults cover basic knowledge, business know-how, social etiquette, and foreign language basics, ranging from phonetics and grammar to basic arithmetic and the drawing up of receipts, IOUs, and basic contracts. At present, youths below the age of 18 study at the school, while villagers above the age of 18 attend the night school. The village, which has a population of less than 300 residents, has produced 46 university students. Asked why they view education with such importance, the villagers told us that education was a problem in the past because of poverty, with many of the villagers born before the 1980s being illiterate. However, with the development of tourism, the villagers soon discovered that they would not get far without grasping basic knowledge. In the past, when they did not know how to do their accounts, did not know how to read and write, and could not speak Mandarin, they had no way of communicating with tourists, and just took whatever money customers gave them for the goods they bought. Now that they are better educated, they find it much easier to do business. The four children of Longzhuta, a resident of Shuzhengzhai Village under Jiuzhaigou Administration, are all studying in Chengdu, with a daughter currently studying at a university in Chengdu, where the family owns a house and their own car. Langjiebo, a resident of the same village, has three children, all of whom study in non-local schools. One of his daughters is currently studying at the Sichuan Conservatory of Music. When we visited his shop, Langjiebo pointed to a collector’s edition DVD of Tibetan-Qiang folk customs, telling us proudly that the beautiful young girl on the front cover was his daughter.

Fourth, farmers and herdsmen are seeking healthier lifestyles and have become much more aware of environmental protection. During our surveys of Songpan and Jiuzhaigou, we were quite impressed by how clean and tidy the local surroundings were. Even more impressive was the strong awareness of environmental protection demonstrated by local residents. Setting out to establish itself as an ecological prefecture, the A’ba prefectural government has made significant efforts to protect the environment and bid farewell to the dirty, disorderly, and poor scenes of the past. In order to protect the environments in scenic areas, Jiuzhaigou has relocated certain business operations and closed down hotels doing business within Jiuzhaigou Valley itself, which has reduced the capacity of the hotel industry by 5,000 beds. Garbage resulting from tourist activities in scenic areas is packed up and transported to designated locations outside scenic areas for processing. Though this practice is costly from a financial perspective, it has proved effective in significantly reducing the impact of human activities on the environment in scenic areas. We noticed that members of staff in the scenic areas will approach visitors and ask them to put out their cigarettes, and that when tourists try to cross the safety line to take a lakeside photo, members of staff will call at them to come back immediately. We also noticed that members of staff also pick up any litter that has been dropped by tourists in scenic areas. Chuanzigou Village has planned and built parking lots, public toilets, viewing platforms, and wooden railings. It has laid down sewage pipes, straightened out power lines, and installed road lights. The exterior walls of all houses in the village are painted in a uniform shade of ashen and decorated with Pulu or Qiaoma designs. In Muchang Village of Chuanzhusi Town, ethnic-style houses with pristine exteriors are laid out in neat rows. Each household is equipped with a solar water heater to provide hot bathing water every day.

Fifth, the feelings of gratitude that farmers and herdsmen have toward the Party and the government have laid down solid foundations for social harmony and stability. During major festivals and holidays, the residents of Chuanzigou Village organize activities in the nearby Long March Monument Park to express their gratitude towards the Party. They are fully aware that they owe their prosperity to the building of the Jiuzhai-Huanglong Airport by the government, which has made this area more accessible to the outside world. All the funds for the establishment of the Hongxiang Ethnic Minority Arts and Crafts Development Company Limited were provided by the Organization Department of the Sichuan Provincial Committee of the CPC. In Muchang Village, we noticed that the national flag flies from every roof. Portraits of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao are hung on the wall in the sitting room of a villager named Chuge. Chuanzhusi Town in Songpan County has prospered with the growth of tourism. Though the village was damaged during the disastrous earthquake of May 12, 2008, few signs of the damage are visible in the village. Much of the town’s infrastructure was rebuilt with aid from Anhui Province, including six bridges over the Minjiang River that runs through the town. Though Chuanzigou Village was itself hit by the earthquake, upon learning of the more devastating situation in the counties of Wenchuan, Maoxian and Beichuan, the residents of Chuanzigou did not hesitate to donate money and relief goods in quick succession. In total, the village contributed 34,000 yuan in cash, 25 army overcoats, five tents, and 2,900 yuan in special Party membership dues to the disaster relief effort. In addition, five residents of the town volunteered to transport relief goods to the disaster area. In these Tibetan regions, where the tourism industry is developed, the view that unity and stability are blessings while division and chaos are disasters is widely shared among farmers and herdsmen. Liu Fang, Secretary of the Party Committee of the Jiuzhaigou Administration, told us that “there is no market for separatism and upheaval here whatsoever.”

There were two things that we found particularly striking during our survey:

First, the influence that tourism has had on the attitudes of residents in Tibetan areas has been nothing short of revolutionary. By “revolutionary,” we mean to say that the changes brought about by the development of tourism have been huge, profound, positive and progressive. For centuries, the harsh environments of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau have placed the people dwelling in these regions under immense physical and psychological pressure. Predominantly nomadic ways of life resulted in low productivity; the harsh terrain created a society, economy, and culture that were almost completely cut off from the outside world; and the strong religious culture imposed constraints on the lives of local people in the plateau region. The development of modern tourism has brought information about the outside world and broadened the horizons of the people in these areas, enabling them to go from isolation to opening up, from backwardness to advancement, from ignorance to civilization, and from narrow-mindedness to open-mindedness. The liberation, relaxation and expansion of the way that farmers and herdsmen think represents the most revolutionary and by far the most significant change to have occurred in these areas.

Second, the development of tourism in Tibetan regions is of great and far-reaching strategic significance. The ethnic minority regions of western China boast some of the best natural conditions for the development of tourism in the country. Devoting great efforts to the development of tourism in Tibetan regions, including Tibet itself, is not only a means of increasing the incomes of farmers and herdsmen and a realistic choice for economic development, but is also a major and far-reaching strategy from a political perspective as well. The transition from nomadism to permanent settlement, from a traditional life style to a modern life style, and from isolation to opening up will fundamentally change the economic, political, cultural and social ecology of Tibetan regions and reduce the extent to which overseas antagonistic forces are able to use religion to deceive the people in these areas. This is conducive to the harmony, stability and development of Tibetan regions. It is totally groundless for some critics in the West to accuse us of destroying the culture of ethnic minorities and disregarding their rights and interests by developing tourism in these areas. Western countries completed their industrialization many years ago, at great cost to natural resources and the environment. As they go about their civilized modern lives, they are only happy to see the Tibetan people live like primitives forever, preserving a pristine natural and cultural environment for their own enjoyment and sightseeing purposes. This is the domineering logic of power politics, not only showing absolutely no regard for the rights of Tibetan people to survive, develop, and pursue their own happiness, but also contradicting the idea of human rights so often advocated by the West. The experience of the Tibetan region of A’ba in Sichuan Province has demonstrated that the development of tourism has neither destroyed the local ecology nor damaged local ethnic customs, but has actually increased awareness of environmental protection and significantly promoted the protection and development of ethnic minority cultures. Tourism presents us with the most scientific, fitting, and comprehensively beneficial model for the long-term development of the ecologically fragile Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.3, 2012)

Members of the Investigation and Study Group: Li Baoshan, Xia Weidong, Li Chuanzhu, Zhao Qiang and Huang Wenchuan

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Getting into Communities, Rectifying the Style of Work, and Changing the Style of Writing

With a view to encouraging journalists to fully integrate the mass viewpoint and the mass line into news and publicity work, and to promote the further development of permanent institutions for media organizations to interact closely with grassroots communities, a national campaign entitled “Getting into Communities, Rectifying the Style of Work, and Changing the Style of Writing” has been launched throughout China’s news media since August 2011. The campaign, which is being organized by the Publicity Department and International Communication Office of the CPC Central Committee, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the General Administration of Press and Publication, and the All-China Journalists Association, has been met with the positive response of the news media, who have engaged in a variety of initiatives aimed at improving their capacity to correctly guide public opinion, respond to public concerns, and serve the public in their daily lives.

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