Ethnic Tourism and Cultural Reconstruction in Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture

Led by Åshild Kolås

Jan 2001 – Dec 2004

The project investigates the effects of tourism on the understanding of Tibetan culture in Diqing, and studies the processes involved in reconstructing Tibetan culture as a marketable commodity for tourists. Diqing is officially known as a Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture within Yunnan province, - a multiethnic area on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The development of ethnic tourism in areas inhabited by minority nationalities is part of a policy to 'develop tertiary industry', where the Chinese state has turned to the advertisement of the exotic appeal of 'ethnic others' within its boundaries to attract domestic and foreign tourists. Since the mid-1980s, the national and provincial governments have invested money and resources into the development of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries as tourist centres. One of the top priorities of the prefecture government is thus to 'rescue Tibetan culture', explicitly understood as a resource to be invested in for the sake of tourism. The project examines the inherent contentions between the goal of 'cultural preservation' and the goal of promoting tourism, focusing on the impact of tourism on indigenous perceptions of ethnic, cultural and religious identity. Is ethnic tourism in Diqing a cause of cultural deterioration or a source of cultural revitalisation?

The main problem can be stated as follows: what are the impacts of ethnic tourism in Diqing? Firstly, what are the main socio-economic effects of tourism? Who benefits economically from tourism, and how is the income from tourism distributed? Secondly, how is tourism linked to the revitalisation of ethnic and cultural identities? Finally, how does ethnic tourism influence the local understanding of 'Tibetan culture' in Diqing? Who are the local 'culture brokers' and what role do they play in the development of cultural 'products' for the tourist market?

This project was funded by the Research Council of Norway, Area for Environment and Development (FRIMUF).

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