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Tourism and the Making of Place in Shangri-La

  • Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)


This article deals with the development of ethnic tourism in 'Shangri-La' and the concomitant reconstruction of the area as a 'Thibetan' place. It discusses how the area has been 'sacralized' in the process of incorporating it into the 'sacred realm' of Buddhist Tibet, how it has been 'ethnicized' in connection with the establishment of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and, finally, how it is currently also being 'exoticized' with the promotion of Diqing as a tourist destination and the renaming of one of its counties, Zhongdian, as 'Shangri-La'. The paper explores the tensions between these various 'place-making' strategies, how 'place' is reinvented and how hegemonic interpretations of 'place' are contested. Theoretically, it brings together some contemporary perspectives on 'place making' from various different fields, in-cluding anthropological studies of place and identity, the political geography of territories and boundaries and studies of pilgrimage and religious geography.
Tourism Geographies, Vol. 6, No. 3, 262–278, August 2004
Tourism and the Making of Place
in Shangri-La
Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo, and International Peace
Research Institute, Oslo, Norway
ABSTRACT This article deals with the development of ethnic tourism in ‘Shangri-La’ and the
concomitant reconstruction of the area as a ‘Tibetan’ place. It discusses how the area has been
‘sacralized’ in the process of incorporating it into the ‘sacred realm’ of Buddhist Tibet, how
it has been ‘ethnicized’ in connection with the establishment of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous
Prefecture and, finally, how it is currently also being ‘exoticized’ with the promotion of Diqing
as a tourist destination and the renaming of one of its counties, Zhongdian, as ‘Shangri-La’.
The paper explores the tensions between these various ‘place-making’ strategies, how ‘place’ is
reinvented and how hegemonic interpretations of ‘place’ are contested. Theoretically, it brings
together some contemporary perspectives on ‘place making’ from various different fields, in-
cluding anthropological studies of place and identity, the political geography of territories and
boundaries and studies of pilgrimage and religious geography.
KEY WORDS: Tibet, China, tourism, ethnicity, geography
This paper explores links between the development of tourism in Shangri-La
(Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan), representations of place
and notions of Tibetan identity. The growth of tourism in the Diqing area
creates opportunities for tourism development companies to commodify and
capitalize on Tibetan culture, but tourism may also provide avenues for local
Tibetans to reinvent Diqing as a ‘Tibetan’ place. When Zhongdian County
was renamed Shangri-La (Xianggelila in Chinese) in 2002, the publicity this
created had the effect of attracting more tourists. At the same time, the name
Correspondence Address: ˚
Ashild Kol˚
as PRIO, Fuglehauggt. 11, NO-0260 Oslo, Norway.
Tel.: +47 22 54 77 50; Fax: +47 22 54 77 01; Email:
1461–6688 print/1470-1340 Online /04/010262–17 C
2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1461668042000249610
Place: Tourism and the Making of Place in Shangri-La 263
change may be understood as a way to contest previously dominant represen-
tations of Tibetan-ness. Religious sites such as Songtseling Monastery and
Khawa Karpo Mountain have become popular tourist attractions. This new
interest in the areassacred geographyalso has important consequences for
the current reconstruction of place and ethnic identity in Diqing.
Since the late 1980s a number of anthropologists and cultural geogra-
phers have made the construction of place their primary object of study and
investigated the interconnections between locality, identity and belonging.
For instance, Bender (1993c), Tilley (1994), Hirsch and OHanlon (1995)
and Abramson and Theodossopoulos (2000) have focused on landscapeor
landas an important source of identity and emplacement, while Keith and
Pile (1993), Gupta and Ferguson (1997), Lovell (1998) and others have anal-
ysed place, belonging and the politics of inclusion and exclusion. Within
other disciplines, such as political geography and political science, the no-
tion of territoryhas been re-examined (Connolly 1996; Newman 1999) and
there has been an increasing interest in the study of frontiers, borders and
boundaries between states (Rumley and Minghi 1991; Anderson 1996; Paasi
1996; Shapiro and Alker 1996; Donnan and Wilson 1998; 1999; Newman
At the same time, Tibetan religious geography,sacred spaceand pil-
grimage are topics that have received considerable attention in the eld
of Tibetan studies. Several scholars have described Tibetan place-making,
mainly based on textual sources such as traditional geographies, texts on
geomancy and on mapsof sacred realms represented by the mandala(see,
for instance, Gyatso 1987; Buffetrille 1998). Others have studied contempo-
rary ritual practices connected to the worship of territorial deities (Karmay
1994). In particular, guidebooksfor pilgrims (gnas yigor lam yig) have
provided sources for a number of recent works on pilgrimage (Filibeck 1990;
Buffetrille 1994a; 1994b; Huber 1994; 1997; Kapstein 1997).
This paper attempts to bring together some of these theoretical perspec-
tives to examine the making of place, or rather places, in one particular
Tibetan area, now known as Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Yun-
nan Province. Based on this case, three kinds of place-makingstrategies are
discussed. First, the paper describes how the area has been sacralizedin
new ways as it was incorporated into the sacred realmof Buddhist Tibet.
Secondly, there is an account of how Diqing was established as a minority
areawithin the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and how it was ethni-
cizedin the process. Finally, there is a description of how the area is currently
also being exoticized, with the promotion of Diqing as a tourist destination
and the renaming of one of its counties, Zhongdian, as Shangri-La. The
paper explores some of the tensions between these different place-making
strategies, as well as their interconnections, and examines how the area is cur-
rently being reinvented as a Tibetanplace. It further discusses how tourism
in Shangri-Laprovides opportunities for contesting hegemonic representa-
tions of Tibetan-ness.
264 ˚
A. Kol˚
The area now known as Diqing is situated on the edge of the Tibetan
Plateau and is one of the areas where Tibetan and Chinese spheres of polit-
ical inuence have competed for centuries. Since Buddhism gained hold in
the Tibetan region and the Buddhist clergy increased their political inuence,
Buddhism gradually came to characterize the polity of Tibet. With the rise
of the Gelugpa order in Central Tibet during the fourteenth and fteenth
centuries, monasteries became increasingly important as centres of admin-
istration, especially on the frontiers of the Tibetan cultural area. The larger
monasteries were not only important as centres of learning and religious life,
but also provided crucial links between Lhasa and the areas on the margins
of the Tibetan Plateau. The largest Gelugpa monastery in Diqing today is
Gedan Songtseling Monastery, established in 1679. Local sources say that
Gedan Songtseling received its name from the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, who
is well-known for cementing the political role of the Dalai Lama lineage and
the religio-political power of the Gelugpa order in the seventeenth century.
In addition to Songtseling, another important monastery, Dhondrupling, lo-
cated in what is now Deqin County, was also established in the seventeenth
century. With the founding of Gelugpa monasteries such as Songtseling and
Dhondrupling, ties between local Tibetan leaders and the Dalai Lamas gov-
ernment in Lhasa were strengthened.
Until the PRC was established in 1949, Songtseling Monastery played an
important role in the administrative affairs of the Gyalthang area, known
in Chinese as the district of Zhongdian. From the beginning of the eigh-
teenth century until 1949 the monastic clergy shared their power with vil-
lage headmen and civilian administrators, led by ofcials appointed by the
Qing rulers and, later, the Nationalist (Guomindang) government. During the
1950s a new administrative setup was introduced. Monasticism was gradu-
ally brought to an end, monasteries and religious sites were destroyed and
pilgrimage and other forms of religious practice were prohibited. Represen-
tatives of the new regime took direct control over the civilian administration.
In the process, many of the old administrative divisions were redrawn, lo-
cal people were systematically categorized as members of ethnic groups or
nationalitiesand further divided into classes. Finally, land reforms paved
the way for setting up communes. Eight or nine communes were established
in Zhongdian County, replacing the ve districts previously administered by
the qianzong(Tibetan: dada). The areas traditionally administered by the
bazong(Tibetan: gy ¨
u) were turned into xiang, and each village became
aproduction team(Chinese: xiaodui).
The Mao eraeventually gave way to the Deng erain the late 1970s.
The new political climate brought far-reaching economic reforms, includ-
ing the return of private ownership, as well as new policies on minority
nationalitiesand religious practice. In Diqing, pilgrimage and the worship
of mountain deities (Tibetan: ri bdag) were among the practices that were
revived and nearly all the monasteries have been rebuilt. With the increasing
economic importance of tourism, particularly after the 1998 logging ban,
Place: Tourism and the Making of Place in Shangri-La 265
religious sites such as Khawa Karpo Mountain and Songtseling Monastery
have become important tourist destinations. Today, Han Chinese as well
as Western tourists show an enormous interest in the areassacred sites.
When the area was identied as Shangri-Laand Zhongdian County was
ofcially renamed in 2002, this was also a great boost to tourism. Although
it may well be described a mythologizing gameplayed by bureaucrats and
entrepreneurs, the name change has important consequences for the way
Diqing is understood as an ethnic minority area and a Tibetanarea, in
In order to develop a deeper understanding of how placeis reinvented and
contested in the contemporary development of tourism, this paper explores
the making of placein a historical perspective and discusses links between
the current promotion of tourist sites and the place-makingstrategies of
representatives of the Chinese state as well as of local inhabitants of Diqing.
By way of a discussion of place, the paper attempts to clarify some of the
links between tourism, the reproduction of ethnicity and the revitalization
of cultural and religious traditions.
Mountain Cults and Buddhist Tibet
For centuries the performance of rituals for the ri bdag(mountain owners)
has served to create a sense of community in the Gyalthang area. At certain
times of the year, the men in each household would go together to the ridge of
their local mountain to burn sang, make offerings and plant ritual arrows
(Tibetan: mdar god)inthertse phung. During the summer horse race
festival they would also go to the slope of the mountain above the race
course to make offerings there. Since the offerings were performed by the
members of many or all the households in the village, they served to conrm
and strengthen family ties and ties between the households that made up the
village communities.
Near the town of Zhongxin, the capital of Shangri-La County and prefec-
ture capital of Diqing, there is a temple for worshipping the ri bdagof the
town itself, the dzong lha. It is located on the slope of a mountain called
Wufengshan (nag rdogin Tibetan), overlooking the county racecourse. The
temple contains images of a deity named gzhi bdag nag rdog(literally black
humped mountain owner), seated on a black horse. Just next to the temple
is a cairn with ritual arrows. As with other ri bdag, Tibetans worship the
dzong lhaby reciting prayers, burning incense and planting ritual arrows
in the cairn.
Territorial gods (Tibetan: yul lha) are mentioned in Tibetan texts exca-
vated at Dunhuang from as early as the seventhtenth centuries (Buffetrille
1998: 20), and most scholars agree that the cult of the yul lhapre-dates
the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet. Annual rituals related to the yul lhaoften
involve competitions such as horseracing and archery, singing and dancing,
266 ˚
A. Kol˚
and the planting of ritual arrows in a cairn, usually located on the slope of
the mountain (Karmay 1994).
A signicant site in the geography of Diqing is Khawa Karpo Mountain,
which is known as one of eight major mountain pilgrimage destinations
(Tibetan: gnas ri) for Tibetan worshippers. The mountain attracts pilgrims
from the entire Tibetan region. Some visit temples on the slope of the moun-
tain, but many people also circumambulate the mountain on a route that
takes four or ve days and a few take a longer route that takes at least
two weeks. The Year of the Sheep is the best year to make the pilgrimage
to Khawa Karpo. In that year, pilgrims come together from far and near to
make offerings and walk around the mountain. Local Tibetan monks related
that Khawa Karpo is a palace for the deity named bdun mchog, for whom
offerings are performed during the Kalachakra ceremony. The association
of Khawa Karpo with a signicant deity in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon
serves as yet another way to incorporate the area into the Tibetan realm and
to sacralizethe land in a new way.
There are numerous descriptions in the Tibetan Buddhist literature of how
Indian Buddhist masters, particularly Padmasambhava, subjugated territo-
rial gods and other pre-Buddhist deities and spirits with the introduction of
Buddhism to Tibet. Pilgrimage guidebooks, written by the Buddhist clergy
and passed on orally to illiterate pilgrims, played an important role in convey-
ing this new understanding of sacred space. According to Buffetrille (1998:
23), these accounts reveal that the Buddhist authorities could neither accept
the territorial deities nor could they suppress them completely. The solu-
tion was one of Buddhicization, that is to incorporate the yul lhainto the
Buddhist universe and transform them into protector deities. In the process,
the yul lhamountain was recast as a gnas ri, or pilgrimage mountain and
worship by local communities on the slope of the mountain was replaced, or
at least overlaid, by the practice of circumambulation by Buddhist pilgrims.
At the same time, the communities that worshipped these territorial deities
were symbolically incorporated into the Buddhist state of Tibet.
The information gathered by the author in Diqing seems to corroborate
much of Buffetrilles analysis. For instance, one interview gave the expla-
nation that in the old daysthe deity who inhabited Khawa Karpo was a
rong brtsan, who was converted into a Buddhist deity by Pema Chungnye
The word rongmeans valley and brtsanis a spirit that belongs to the human
realm. When Pema Chungnye arrived from India, he meditated in a cave on
Mount Khawa Karpo. The brtsanwho inhabited Khawa Karpo was then
converted to a Buddhist deity. The palace inhabited by this deity was called
gdan mchog, which refers to the palace of Dharma(chos kyi podrang). The
Khawa Karpo deity is white and sits on a white horse, holds a thunderbolt in
one hand, and is just like the protector of the north that is painted outside the
doorways of Buddhist temples.
Place: Tourism and the Making of Place in Shangri-La 267
Images of the Khawa Karpo deity are displayed at several sites along the
pilgrimage route encircling the mountain. One of them, the Ch ¨
orten Shego
(Mirror Stupa), has a special signicance for pilgrims to Khawa Karpo, in
that any pilgrim to the mountain must visit this temple rst. People believe
that this is necessary in order to be spiritually qualiedfor the pilgrimage
and that if they fail to visit the temple their pilgrimage will be of no benet.
When asked about the difference between worshipping a ri bdagand
the Khawa Karpo deity, some people would say that the worship of the ri
onpractice, connected to pre-Buddhist religious beliefs, whereas
mountain pilgrimage is a Buddhistpractice. On the other hand, this dis-
tinction seems to be insignicant in practice. For instance, even Buddhist
monastic communities perform rituals for the local ri bdag. What is more
signicant is that while the ri bdagis important to the local community
who worship it, the deity who inhabits a gnas risuch as Khawa Karpo
is important to all Tibetan Buddhists. However, a pilgrimage to a Buddhist
holy mountain cannot replace the rituals performed for the ri bdag, since
these are two very different practices. This is why, despite a long history of
Buddhicization, both forms of worship continue in close proximity. The
rituals performed for the ri bdagserve primarily to conrm the importance
of families and local communities, while the worship of the Khawa Karpo
deity serves to reafrm Tibetan-nessand symbolically incorporate the area
and its inhabitants into the Tibetan realm.
In the mid-1980s the late tenth Panchen Lama (second only to the Dalai
Lama as a Tibetan religious leader and political gure) made several visits
to Diqing and one of the places he visited was Khawa Karpo. Several people
told the author about this visit and, especially, about the famous picture that
was taken on that occasion. People say that the weather that day was very
cloudy and it was impossible to see the mountain. But after many hours
of recitations and rituals, when the Panchen Lama took up a can to pour
holy water out, then suddenly the clouds lifted, like a curtain, and the peak
became visible. According to some, only the Panchen Lama could make the
peak show itself, since he and the mountain are like brothers.
In order to appreciate the signicance of such statements and how they
implicitly connect Khawa Karpo with the reafrmation of Tibetan-ness,itis
necessary to understand what the Panchen Lamas visits meant to Tibetans
in Diqing. His visits came at a time when there was still a great deal of
uncertainty about the actual consequences of the Open Doors policy and the
new political climate it entailed. This was before the monasteries had been
rebuilt and before the building of a Tibetan Middle School where students
could learn Tibetan. At that time the Panchen Lama brought a message to
local Tibetans that made a deep impression:
When the Panchen Lama came to visit us he asked the Tibetan teachers if
they knew how to read Tibetan, and if they spoke Tibetan every day. They
said no. When he asked people their names, they would sometimes tell him
268 ˚
A. Kol˚
their Chinese names. He was disappointed and angry, and asked why they
used Chinese rather than Tibetan names. He spent a whole day outside, in the
square, just touching people on the head. The Panchen Lama is the Buddha of
Wisdom. When he was here he told everybody: Look at me, I know Marxism
and I know Tibetan Buddhism. We must all learn what we can from other
traditions, but without losing our own tradition. We must learn to read and
write Tibetan, and we must speak Tibetan. We must keep our language alive,
but at the same time we must learn what we can from others.
The picture of the Panchen Lama in front of Khawa Karpo has a very special
signicance to local Tibetans. The reason is partly because it both echoes
and reproduces the symbolic connections between Tibetan identity and the
worship of a holy mountain. However, these connections are usually not
made explicit. If you ask a Tibetan what is the difference between worship-
ping a ri bdagand worshipping the Khawa Karpo deity, he or she would
probably answer much more pragmatically: If you go to Wufengshan, you
go for protection and good business, but if you go to Khawa Karpo you go
for a good rebirth, and to purify your spirit.
Creating the Peoples and Places of the People’s Republic
Recent studies of border communities and of people who cross borders have
served to highlight how the state exercises both physical and symbolic power
(see, for example, Paasi 1996; Donnan and Wilson 1998). Within this con-
text, symbolic power refers to the power to dene state territory and cate-
gorize the citizens of a state. Mapping is one of the most important methods
utilized by states in their efforts to reconstruct placeaccording to the spatial
scales of state territory. If one understands placeas space inscribed with
meaning and agency, then some would argue that the territorial space of
the Communist state is in fact placelessand that the state has actually been
engaged in an anti-placepractice of displacingindigenous constructions
of place. It is probably more accurate to say that when boundaries were re-
drawn and new administrative units were created by the state this served the
dual purpose of displacingindigenous constructions and replacingthem
with state constructions.
The Communist state had its own ways of inscribing space with meaning
and agency. First, the new regime propagated the message that the PRC was
amultiethnicstate where each ethnic group or nationalitywas to be ac-
corded autonomywithin the boundaries of their own territory. Secondly,
when religious practices and old culturewere attacked, land reformsin-
troduced and communes established, the regime also tried to transform its
territory into the New China, and this meant erasing anything that might
remind people of the old society. This is reected in the invention of new
place names. When the administrative setup was redrawn in Diqing, for ex-
ample, many of the new administrative units, particularly the administrative
Place: Tourism and the Making of Place in Shangri-La 269
villages (Chinese: cun), were named with popular slogans of the Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) such as peaceand unite, while some were simply
named village number one,village number twoand so forth, in Chinese.
The main street of Zhongxin was named Long March Roadto commemo-
rate the Long March of the Second Division of the Red Army, which passed
through Zhongdian in 1936. These are just a few examples of how the Com-
munist state employed place names for ideological purposes.
During the 1950s the study of geography in the PRC followed the Soviet
pattern, where the subject was treated as a physical science whose sole
aimwas to assist in the exploitation of the natural environment(Hsieh
1959: 543). Concomitant to the remapping of the territory of the PRC, the
authorities also initiated a large-scale ethnicizingproject, to identify the
ethnic groups living within its boundaries. In the nationalities identication
project(Chinese: minzu shibie), initiated in the early 1950s, Chinese eth-
nologists were given the task of dening the ethnic groups or nationalities
(Chinese: minzu) of China, following Stalinsdenition of nationality.As
in the Soviet model, one of the primary reasons for identifying the nationali-
tieswas that areas inhabited by minority nationalitieswere to be accorded
autonomousstatus, in which specic policies were to be introduced for the
benet of the minorities.
The system of autonomous areasthat was established in the PRC rests
on the understanding that specic discernible areas of China are inhabited
largely by ethnic minorities, distinguishable from the majority Hanpopu-
lation by virtue of distinct, shared, cultural traits. In Yunnan Province alone,
25 different ethnic minority groups were identied. According to the demo-
graphic gures compiled for the 1980 national census, there were eight differ-
ent ethnic minorities with populations above 1,000 living in Diqing. Despite
the fact that the prefecture was designated Tibetan, the ethnic composi-
tion of the three counties was widely disparate. In Deqin County Tibetans
constituted about 80 percent of the population and, in Zhongdian County
(now Shangri-La), the equivalent gure was about 40 percent of the popu-
lation. In Weixi County, however, only six percent of the population were
registered as Tibetans, while the majority of people there were registered as
Lisu. In 1985 Weixi was nally redened as a Lisu Autonomous County,
according to the principles of autonomy that should have been followed in
the 1950s. However, a few village districts within Weixi were classied as
Tibetanwhen they formed their own village committees(Chinese: cun
Disagreements about ethnic boundaries are by no means uncommon in
China. Throughout the minority areasof China, nationalityidentities
and the boundaries of autonomousareas are contested and subject to
continuous renegotiation, despite the stereotypes that are recounted in of-
cial discourse (see, for example, Harrell 1995; 1996; Brown 1996; Wellens
1998). What is exempt from negotiation is the very scheme of classifying
nationalitiesand the ideological premises, often referred to as scientic,
270 ˚
A. Kol˚
that the classication is based on. The problem is therefore still seen as a
question of nding the correct scientic classication.
Theoretically, the boundaries of the autonomousareas were supposed to
reect the distribution of ethnic groups. In practice this often failed, and the
reasons for this go beyond the problem of ethnic classication. As for the
Tibetan areas, an explicit goal of the PRC authorities was to break down the
inuence of the feudal theocracyand reconstruct the area along the politico-
economic lines of the Communist state. Furthermore, the main purpose of
redrawing the boundaries was to reorganize the system of production and,
in this respect, communes and production teams were the essential units.
In 1957, when the Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture was formally
inaugurated, the work of dividing its population into classes was already well
underway. This was followed closely by the conscation of land from the
wealthy landowners in the campaign known as land reforms(Chinese: tudi
gaige). Soon after, communes were set up and each village was organized as
a production team.
The commune system put an end to pilgrimage, since all movements were
strictly limited by the work schedule in the production brigade. Monasteries
also lost their land in the land reformsand, by the time communes were
introduced, monks and nuns had been forced away from the monasteries.
With the onset of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 religious practice became
one of the primary targets of criticism. The performance of rituals to the
ri bdagwas also forbidden at that time. When pilgrimage and other types
of religious practice were again allowed in the early 1980s, they became
signicant not only as religious expressions, but as a way to contest the atheist
ideology of the CCP as well as the technocratic place-makingstrategies of
the Chinese state. In other words, this paper would suggest that the revival of
rituals for the ri bdagand, especially, of mountain pilgrimage, have taken
on additional meanings in the present context, as a way to reclaim places as
Locating Shangri-La: The Making of a Tourist Destination
In the PRC, minority nationalitieshave been cast as representatives of less
advanced, more primitive, stages of social evolution. In school textbooks
as well as the media, the backwardnessof the minorities has been contrasted
to the modernityof the Han Chinese. While highlighting the backward-
nessof minority nationalities, the nationalities identication projectalso
produced the effect of distinguishing the various nationalitiesaccording to
specic ethnic markers, such as dress, arts and crafts, architecture, typical
livelihoods, festivals and religious practices. These stereotypes are currently
being commodied for the sake of tourism, through the making of ethnic arts
and handicrafts products, the creation of staged ethnic tourist performances,
as well as other tourist products marketed locally and in ethnic theme parks
Place: Tourism and the Making of Place in Shangri-La 271
and tourist villages(see, for example, Oakes 1997; 1998; Schein 2000).
Tourism, thus, serves to reinforce hegemonic representations of minority
nationalitiesand the places they inhabit. However, it is suggested here that
the reproduction of differences inherent in the process of marketing minori-
ties for tourists may also create a space for the re-negotiation of nationality
identity as well as the meaning of minority areas. In Tibetan areas such as
Diqing, placeis also given new meanings as tourists congregate at the sites
that are most signicant to the areas sacred geography, particularly Khawa
Karpo and Songtseling.
A number of tourism studies have described the creation of myths about
tourist destinations (see Selwyn 1996). For example, while Lapland has been
romanticized as the Last Wilderness of Europe(Pedersen and Viken 1996),
various islands in the Pacic are marketed as Paradise(Burns 1999). With
the development of tourism in Diqing, a similar strategy is being used there.
The area is currently being promoted as Shangri-La, the site that inspired
James Hilton to write his best-selling novel Lost Horizon (1933), lmed by
Frank Capra in 1937. The search for the location of this ctional Shangri-La
has been going on in various parts of northern Yunnan since the mid-1990s.
In 1997 the Yunnan Economy & Technology Research Centre, determined to
nd the real Shangri-La, even commissioned a study, which concluded that
the facts were in favour of Diqing. As in Hiltons novel, three rivers crisscross
the area, the Mekong (Lancang), the Salween (Nu) and the Golden Sand
(Jinsha). After a careful investigationthey also found that an American
transport plane did, indeed, crash in Zhongdian, which made them certain
that Diqing was the model for Hiltons story of Shangri-La. In May 2002,
Zhongdian County was ofcially renamed Shangri-La County (see Hillman
2003 for a detailed description of the renaming process).
After commercial logging was banned in 1998, tourism has become the
most important source of revenue in Diqing. The commercial signicance
of being certiedas Shangri-La has no doubt represented an enormous
economic benet. When the head of the Prefecture Tourism Department
was interviewed, he argued that this has been a great support from the
central government to the Tibetan region, emphasizing the publicity they
had received thanks to the name change, as he showed me the most recent
statistics on the number of tourist arrivals. He further explained that this
is a part of a much larger plan, where all the areas involved will benet
Government ofcials in the prefecture and county governments play a sig-
nicant role in the planning of tourism development. Many of the bureau-
crats are Tibetans or members of other nationalities. These culture brokers
are working within the vestiges of a party-controlled, planned economy sys-
tem, where economic reform policies have so far not been fully implemented.
Government and Party bureaucrats are still advantaged in terms of political
power and are also in a good position to draw nancial benets from tourism.
They sometimes play dual roles as ofcials and private entrepreneurs and it
272 ˚
A. Kol˚
is, therefore, not surprising to nd that these ofcials are actively engaged
in the representation of the area as Shangri-La.
Since the late 1990s local ofcials have been working actively to revive
Tibetan culturein Diqing. In 1998 they had formulated a ve-point plan,
where one of the top priorities was to rescue Tibetan culture, explicitly
understood as a resource to be invested in for the sake of tourism. Folk
songs, folk dances and music had been particularly singled out as cultural
productsfor tourist consumption. Religious sites such as monasteries were
also perceived by government ofcials as cultural resourcesthat could be
used to attract tourists. Contrary to the tradition of keeping monasteries
open to pilgrims, ticket sales had already been introduced at the largest
monastery in the county, Songtseling, and a gift shop had been set up at the
entrance. When discussing ways to develop tourism, government ofcials
in the Culture Department explained that there was a need to develop
monasteries further as tourist sites and help revive traditional religious arts.
The head of the Tourism Department also emphasized the importance of
preserving Tibetan culture. He stated that in his opinion, Shangri-La stands
for preserving nature and culture. He further claimed that: Tourists like the
exotic, to return to nature. They dont like modernisation. Foreign tourists
will make up the majority of tourists who visit this area in the future. Other
areas are too developed, and this area will attract them.
It is clear from their statements that these ofcials have fairly elaborate
ideas about the attractions Diqing has to offer tourists. They know that
identifying the Diqing area as Shangri-Lais an important way to package
their place for tourist consumption.
The success of this marketing strategy, evident in the increasing numbers
of tourists visiting Diqing, also says something about the other side of the
tourist gaze. The tourists, predominantly urban Chinese, obviously nd
the area attractive as a tourist destination. The question is why? In China
people are taught in school that Tibet was a slave state ruled by a despotic
lamaistclergy prior to its liberation. As one journalist commented, for
the authorities, pre-occupation Tibetan society could scarcely have been the
earthly Utopia that inspired Hiltons 1933 novel(Korski 1997). And yet,
even the China Daily,anofcial mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist
Party, seems to endorse the idea that Diqing really is a paradise-on-earth.
Xuan Ke, a local amateur historian who is cited in several reports as the rst
person to identify Diqing as Shangri-La, hints at why this might be the case:
This is not for tourists,Mr. Xuan scoffs. Its for real people looking for a real
place where there is harmony. If Shangri-La is only for tourism and three-star
hotels, I say no. There are blue skies, not like Beijing,he adds. People are
searching for a new world. No money, no power, no politics. This is the place
people have dreamed of, from the book and the movie.(Korski 1997).
Selwyn (1996: 3) has argued that tourist perceptions of destinations such as
Nepal are shaped by a preoccupation with harmonious social relations and
Place: Tourism and the Making of Place in Shangri-La 273
ideas about community. In a similar vein, Graburn (1995) has claimed that
Japanese tourism to rural areas such as spas and heritage sites results from
an attempt to nd some kind of nostalgic rejuvenation in the face of the in-
creasing problems of living in a modern, urbanized society. It can be argued
that these factors can also explain what attracts urban Chinese tourists to
Shangri-La, often gloried as a place of peace and harmony,clear water and
blue skiesand friendly people. What makes the case of Diqing different is
that the image of Shangri-La represents such a stark contrast to the way that
Tibetan society has been portrayed in the discourses of the Chinese Commu-
nist state. What has been depicted until now as a primitiveand backward
society is suddenly represented not only as exotic, but even as a Utopia.
Tourism has become an important site for negotiating the meanings of eth-
nicity in contemporary China. The primary goal of the Chinese authorities
is to promote the image of China as a unied, multicultural and multieth-
nic state, where the minority nationalitiesrepresent the more colourful
and exotic varieties of Chinese culture, whereas the Han represent the more
modernand cosmopolitan culture. As described by Swain (2001), Chinese
cosmopolitantourists are primarily engaged in an exercise in modernity.
Swain argues that tourists travel in Yunnan to consumenatural and cultural
landscapes: Nature is controlled by packaging it in cable car rides, concrete
pathways, and coach tours, and culture is objectied by seeing Han heritage
as something in the past, and diverse ethnic group practices as frozen in time
and primitive(2001: 137).
Oakes (1997: 42) argues that the construction of theme parks such as
Splendid Chinais a sign of a general trend in China, in which tourism and
intensied market commercialism have collaborated to invent a landscape
of nostalgia on which to build a sense of national identity. Apparently, the
minority nationalitiesnow have yet another role to play in the construction
of a modern Chinese identity, as objects of a longing for the Chinese past.
For some, Shangri-Lamay be just another such landscape of nostalgia.
For others, Shangri-Larepresents what is missing in contemporary Chinese
society. This is perhaps what Petersen (1995) refers to as a strong sense of
cultural pilgrimagein much of Chinese domestic tourism. The nostalgia of
Chinese tourism is an expression of longing, not just for traditional China,
but also for the experience of an unpolluted natural environment and the
lifestyles of the people of nature(see Graburn 2001: 82).
The case of Diqing shows that, at present, even the contrast between the
primitiveminorities and the modernHan Chinese is taking on new mean-
ings, as urban Chinese search for the place of their dreams in the unspoiled
nature and simple lifestyles of minority areassuch as Shangri-La. Tourism
developers have taken advantage of this trend and represent Diqing as a
place where people live in harmony with nature. Shangri-La has come to
symbolize the longing of human beings for a perfect and peaceful world,
where there is complete harmony between man and nature, and man and
man(Liu and Liu 1997).
274 ˚
A. Kol˚
Creating, Reinventing, Contesting Place
Bender (1993a: 23) accurately describes landscape as polysemicand adds
that each individual holds many landscapes in tension. She also acknowl-
edges that people not only engage with landscape, they re-work, appropriate
and contest it. In short, landscape is a concept of high tension (Bender 1993a:
3). While it is important to explore the meanings of place, in the sense of how
landscapes and places are experienced and how notions of place may produce
feelings of belonging, a critical investigation should also ask how notions of
place are established as real, who has the power to create, reinvent and con-
test places and what is at stake for those who engage in these practices. Too
much emphasis on the subjective construction of landscapes and places may
obscure the sense in which land also exists as an important resource (Abram-
son and Theodossopoulos 2000). In order to examine place makingcriti-
cally it is necessary to explore how notions of place and identity are linked not
only to property rights, but to the control of vital economic and political as-
sets, such as rights of taxation, strategic importance for military defence, the
ability to exercise social control, as well as to prot from the tourist industry.
One important way of disputing territories is to contest the ways they
are represented, an issue that is also at the very junction of the experiential/
symbolic and the political/economical perspectives. This is precisely what
has happened in much of the Fourth World, especially the Arctic region and
Australia, where disputes over land between the state and indigenous peoples
have involved clashes in ways of representing land, and different notions of
placehave been brought to the centre-stage of the debate. Indigenous peo-
ples are not the only ones to contest dominant meanings of place. In Britain,
for instance, hippy travellers struggling for their right to use Stonehenge as
a sight for free festivals, as well as road protesters who chain themselves to
trees, are ghting the authorities by radically redening place(see Bender
1993b; Durman 2000).
The politics of reinventing and contesting placein Diqing are, perhaps,
less radical than the examples just cited. One important reason for this is that
the Chinese authorities effectively subdue any attempt, whether by Tibetans
or other inhabitants of China, to question the political and ethnographic
order of things as represented by the PRC authorities. Whereas borders
between counties, prefectures and even provinces are quite often subject
to controversy, the political and administrative system, as such, is not. None
the less, the meanings of place can be reworked by more abstruse means. One
way of doing this is to appropriate tradition and revoke ancientways of
representing place, no less contested in the past, as in the revival of pilgrimage
and mountain cults.
When tourists follow in the paths of pilgrims, tourism may, in fact, boost
traditionalrepresentations of place. On the other hand, tourism develop-
ment also creates new tensions, between the use of sites as tourist destinations
and the maintenance of sacralizednotions of place. There is a serious risk
Place: Tourism and the Making of Place in Shangri-La 275
that some monasteries may nd themselves invadedby increasing numbers
of tourists. Songtseling, for example, receives a large number of tour groups
every year and the sale of tickets to tourists is currently a key income source
for the monastery, as well as a source of revenue for the county govern-
ment. Economic concerns have led to a situation where tour groups and
their guides are admitted to the monastery from morning to evening, regard-
less of what rituals are being performed. The presence of tour groups and
their guides wandering around the premises may sometimes be disturbing.
The monastery has issued complaints to the local government about this,
but the problem is currently far from being solved.
Another way of reworking the meanings of placeand of subverting hege-
monic interpretations, has been accomplished by the renaming of Zhongdian
County as Shangri-La. Ever since the 1950s, feudaland slave societyhave
been key terms used by Chinese social scientists to describe the traditional
Tibetan society. The Marxist conception of evolutionary stages of social
forms and the alleged backwardnessand primitivityof minority national-
ities, has also been emphatically propagated to the general public. In school
textbooks and the mass media, expressions such as backwardand supersti-
tioushave been used to describe Tibetans and other minority nationalities.
In sharp contrast to these unfavourable representations of Tibetan-ness,a
Tibetan area is currently represented as an exotic Shangri-La. Moreover,
the change of names has been approved by the central government, which
means that the re-interpretation of this particular place has actually been
endorsed by the authorities.
The main purpose for renaming Zhongdian County Shangri-Lawas un-
doubtedly commercial. Nevertheless, the name change has consequences for
the way the area is understood. Shangri-Laprovides an answer to the
dreams of urban Chinese, attracted to a place where people live in har-
mony with each other and the environment. For whatever reasons, this is
something that people in Diqing are becoming aware of, and that further
affects the meanings they attach to the place where they live.
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Notes on Contributor
Ashild Kol˚
as has a research degree in Social Anthropology from the Univer-
sity of Oslo (1994). She has conducted eldwork in Tibetan areas of China
and in Tibetan settlements in India and has written on contemporary Tibet,
focusing on identity politics. From 1997 until 2001 she worked as research
co-ordinator and researcher for the PRIO project on Tibetan Culture in
China and, since 2001, she has conducted research on ethnic tourism in a
Tibetan area in Yunnan Province.
e: Le tourisme et la cr´
eation de lieu au Shangri-La
Cet article examine le d´
eveloppement du tourisme ethnique au Shangri-La et la reconstruc-
tion corollaire de la zone comme lieu v´
eritablement tib´
etain. Larticle d´
ecrit le processus de
278 ˚
A. Kol˚
sacralization du lieu par son incorporation dans le domaine sacr´
e du Tibet bouddhiste, le pro-
cessus de son identication ethnique grˆ
ace `
eation de la pr´
efecture autonome tib´
de Diqing, et nalement son exoticization lors de la promotion de Diqing comme destination
touristique. On a ´
egalement donn´
e le nom de Shangri-La `
a la circonscription de Zhongdian.
Larticle explore les tensions entre ces diverses strat´
egies de cr´
eation de lieu, comment on a
e le lieu et comment les interpr´
etations h´
emoniques de lieu sont contest´
ees. Larticle
combine plusieurs perspectives th´
eoriques sur la cr´
eation de lieutir´
ees de diverses disciplines,
telles que lanthropologie et ses ´
etudes sur les liens entre lieu et identit´
e, la g´
eographie politique
et ses ´
etudes de territoires et de limites et les ´
etudes sur les p`
elerinages et la g´
eographie des
es: Tibet, Chine, tourisme, ethnicit´
e, g´
Zusammenfassung: Tourismus und die Kreation des Ortsverst ¨
andnisses in
Dieser Beitrag behandelt die Entwicklung des Ethno-Tourismus in Shangri-Laund die
laufende Rekonstruktion dieser Gegend als ein tibetischerPlatz. Dabei wird diskutiert,
wie dieses Gebiet durch die Einbeziehung in das g¨
ottliche K ¨
onigreichdes buddhistischen
Tibet geheiligt, wie es durch die Schaffung der Diqing-Tibetanisch Autonome Pr¨
ethnisiertund schließlich wie es gegenw¨
artig exotisiertwurde mit der Vermarktung von
Diqing als Tourismusziel, was sich auch in der Umbenennung eines der Pr¨
Zhongdian, in Shangri-Laniederschlug. Der Aufsatz untersucht die Spannungen zwischen
diesen verschiedenen Ortsverst¨
andnisstrategien, wie ein Ortneu erfunden wird und wie
vorherrschende Ortsverst¨
andnisse herausgefordert werden. Auf der theoretischen Ebene bringt
dieser Beitrag einige zeitgen ¨
ossische Ansichten der Schaffung von Ortenaus verschiedenen
Disziplinen zusammen einschließlich der anthropologischen Orts- und Indentit¨
der politischen Geographie von Gebieten und Grenzen sowie Pilgerfahrtsuntersuchungen der
Stichw ¨
orter: Tibet, China, Tourismus, Ethnizit ¨
at, Geography
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... And it does so in two ways. First, through the development of tourist sites and attractions, the state seeks to develop an imagined nostalgic landscape (explicitly linked to premodern travel as discussed in the preceding section) as a foundation for building national identity and an alternative modernity (Anagnost, 1993;Kolås, 2004;Oakes, 1998). Specifically, the state promotes the construction of new scenic places and attractions and the rebuilding of existing heritage, typically as theme parks and open air museums (Nyiri, 2006(Nyiri, , 2009, which are framed within pre-determined narratives and selectively rewritten cultural and historical meanings (Shepherd, 2009). ...
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In this ebook you will find a series of papers, which can be read out of curiosity, as a leisure activity, for inspiration, for research, for self-reflection, and as educational material in formal and informal educational contexts. The case studies are divided into four sections: Emotions, Culture and Tourism; Tastes of Culture; Spirituality and Sacred Sites; and Engaging with Local Cultures. The first section deals with various emotions in culture and tourism. Siri Driessen writes about Auschwitz, as an example of a war tourism site, where young visitors deal with mixed feelings, emotions, and confront the moral responsibility of their behaviour. The impact of touristic visits to former war sites remains a point of discussion and the various sensitivities need consideration of visitors as well as site managers. The next case study is set in Amsterdam’s Red Light District – De Wallen. Astrid Mörk, Amanda 9 Introduction: Cultural Sensitivity in Tourism Encounters Brandellero, Lénia Marques, and Siri Driessen discuss the issue of liveability in the area, as well as the need to find a balance between commercial and residential interests. The case study specifically taps into the experiences of female residents. By exploring how women living in the area feel about objectifying and sexualizing gazes, the challenges and tensions that relate to gender, gendered and sexualised public spaces, are highlighted. The second section approaches (eno) gastronomy as an essential part of the cultural experience. Silvia Aulet, Guilherme F. Rodrigues, and Joaquim Majó explore Catalan gastronomy as a bridge for understanding local cultures. Through an analysis of Catalan gastronomy, including traditional dishes and products of local cuisine, they show how gastronomy is integrated into the local culture. Following this, Goretti Silva, Alexandra I. Correia, Carlos Fernandes, and Mariana Oliveira approach the gastronomic culture of Minho, a region in Portugal, and the Sarrabulho dish as part of the local Portuguese identity. It is suggested that gastronomy provides opportunities to improve the tourist attractiveness of the destination through grassroot, bottom-up approaches to regional development. The third section discusses emotions of spirituality and sacredness. Peter Björkroth and Maria Engberg examine different aspects of sauna and the process of commercializing the tradition of sauna to suit tourism and modern tourists in Finland in the 21st century. The authors examine this within the framework of Goffman’s dramaturgical model of social interaction and Mac- Cannell’s model of ‘staged authenticity’. Silvia Aulet, Guilherme F. Rodrigues, and Dolors Vidal-Casellas on the other hand, explore different approaches to visitors’ perception of World Heritage Sites in Catalonia, Spain, where almost all sacred spaces are related to the Catholic religion. The case study analyses three well-known Catalonian world heritage sites, while considering their different tourism offerings and their functions as religious sites. In the fourth and final section, Engaging with Local Cultures, Goretti Silva, Alexandra I. Correia, Carlos Fernandes, and Mariana Oliveira explore Erasmus mobility as a culture-led experience. The experiences of incoming Erasmus students to IPVC in Portugal were investigated with the help of a survey clarifying the students’ perceptions of the local culture. Mihai Țichindelean, Cosmin Tileagă, Alin Opreana, Flavia Bodi, Delia Beca, Oana Rus, and Ioana-Amalia Ene inspect a country’s beauty through the cultural route Via Transilvanica in Romania. The article describes the uniqueness of each of the seven regions presented in the article and explores how this route-based tourism product could impact economically and culturally on the local communities along the route.
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Religious heritage sites are defined by their nature, both religious and non-religious (historical, social, cultural, etc.), as being pilgrimage destinations, as well as tourist attractions. The main aim of this paper is to determine whether there is a relationship between tourism accessibility and the concept of spiritual sustainability. Spiritual sustainability is presented in the paper by analyzing the concept of a sacred place and the connection it may have with tourism development. The authors have attempted to distinguish the elements determining the tourist and religious (spiritual) attractiveness of several pilgrimage sites as destinations for religious tourism, proposing a model for analyzing the connection between the two concepts studied. Two European regions have been compared-Pomerania (Poland) and Catalonia (Spain)-by analyzing 30 sacred sites (15 per region) using a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods. The results show that a lack of accessibility positively affects the spiritual sustainability of the sites. In other cases, the impact that accessibility can have depends on the management system.
The article discusses the relation between the official state classification of ethnic groups in China and existing ethnic categories. After several rounds of fieldwork in the 1950s and 1960s 56 nationalities were recognised in the whole of China, that is 55 national minorities plus the Han Chinese majority. The official labels resulting from this classification project and the categories they are meant to cover seem in several cases to be at odds with the way the objects of classification perceive of their own ethnic identity. Through popular as well as more serious publications a certain archetypal image of the culture of each nationality is spread throughout China. This, combined with both the apparent need for exoticising non-Han Chinese culture in a rapidly modernising Chinese society and the absolutist state's ingrown urge to homogenise and control all forms of ethnic expression has provided each nationality with its stereotyped representation. Being a member of a nationality one both has to relate to the nationality label as the official sanctioning of one's local identity and as the emblem of an external definition of this identity. The article explores how the Premi people of Southwest China manage to mediate these two identities.