Twenty years ago, commercial tourism in the People’s Republic of China hardly existed. Today, China has a burgeoning tourist industry, characterized by a unique style with deep roots in traditional Chinese culture. Scenic Spots is an engaging exploration of why Chinese tourists pursue certain kinds of experiences, what they make of them, and how their experiences and interpretations are shaped by the state.
Working from within a Chinese cultural framework, Pál Nyíri argues that China’s brand of tourism is distinct from the traditions of both Western bourgeois tourism, which values authenticity, and Soviet tourism, with its emphasis on rugged and selfless experience. In China, tourism development is guided by the state, and “scenic spots” (jingdian) and theme parks are used to demonstrate China’s heroic past and as tools of patriotic education and modernization – or as forms of “indoctritainment.” The tourist site is perceived as a product, and, as such, it is bounded, approved, rated, and consumed.
In a style both straightforward and provocative, Nyíri argues that the uniformity and undisguised commercialism of Chinese tourist sites are a direct result of the state’s ultimate authority to determine the meaning of landscape and to control culture. Scenic Spots serves as a lens through which to explore mechanisms of cultural control and resistance in a highly commercialized sphere of everyday life in contemporary China.