Shaxi: A New Model of Tourism Development.- Sam Mitchell


Tourism development in minority areas is growing so fast that the Yunnan government has made it one of the pillar industries in Yunnan, supported by special government policies. This rapid development in tourism is due to the beautiful natural environment and rich cultural diversity of this special province. But, in many areas of Yunnan, tourism is developing so fast that it has drawn concern among many. Large groups of tourists come to one small area, eroding the experience. People do not learn much from their travels. Urban and rural minority people do not increase mutual understanding from this model of tourism. Major tourist sites pay most attention to the development of restaurants, hotels and entertainment facilities. Some places fabricate their cultures in order to attract more tourists. Commercialization devours the local cultures.

This paper explores a new model of tourism development in Yunnan's minority areas based on the experience of the Shaxi old town preservation project.

Shaxi, a small town located in Jianchuan county, was unknown to the outside world until 2001, when the World Monuments Fund placed the Shaxi Market Area on their list of 100 most endangered sites.

The archaeological history of Shaxi can be traced back 2400 years. Ancient graveyards at Aofeng mountain and a copper mine at Huacong mountain nearby prove that Shaxi was a base for bronze smelting by 400 BC. Shaxi was one of the original sites of bronze culture, for which Yunnan is so well known.

The recorded history of Shaxi can be traced back to the Nanzhao Kingdom period (649-920), at which time it was already a prosperous market on the ancient tea and horse caravan route. Today, the ancient square, theater, temples, guest houses and shops in Shaxi are still in their original shape.

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has helped to restore some of the ancient buildings with funding from the World Monument Fund. But, the Swiss worry that, after they leave, what will happen to Shaxi? If the Shaxi people want to preserve their cultural heritage and improve their lives, a new model for future tourism development must be created and put forward for the local government, local people, tourists, schools and tourism institutes to consider.
Tourism in Yunnan is pursuing a model of mass tourism everywhere. Such commercialized tourism has made business people, often from outside, the greatest beneficiaries. If done correctly, tourism in Shaxi can promote social development in a healthy way, good for both environmental and cultural preservation. Tourism can not only make money, but contribute to the sustainable development of the minority areas and preserve indigenous knowledge for the younger generation.

The major concepts of this new model of ethnic tourism are:

a. To maintain the farmland environment of Shaxi and provide a relaxing experience for urban people. Farmland, forests, rivers and ancient buildings must be well protected. Local people should still live in the old town, farming, raising animals and trading.

b. Local people should be guided in appropriate ways of running small businesses and knowledgeable people must be trained, not just as guides, but as teachers able to introduce Shaxi's history and agricultural culture to the tourists. The number of the tourists should be limited and the local people should benefit from this new model of tourism development.

c. Shaxi should receive students to experience rural life and establish Shaxi as an educational base for indigenous knowledge. Nowadays young students in the cities don't understand minority people's rural lives and how agriculture functions. They understand material comfort and don't even understand where their food comes from. As the gap between the cities and the countryside increases, greater understanding is necessary. If schools can send students to Shaxi for a week, where they can eat, sleep, work, and communicate with the local people, this can help promote this understanding .

d. To enable foreign students or scholars to study rural China and Bai culture. Shaxi can learn to arrange homestays or serve as facilitators for a variety of study topics.

e. To encourage local people to continue to produce their indigenous arts and handicrafts. The local people can introduce these art forms to tourists by demonstrating their production.

f. A hiking route for backpackers can be established between Shaxi and the Buddhist temples and Nanzhao kingdom shrines of nearby Shibaoshan and the traditional village of Ma Pingguan.

Chinese Mahayana and Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism co-exist in the Xingjiao temple in Shaxi. The Shibaoshan rock grottoes in the beautiful wooded mountains behind Shaxi record the history of the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms and include many Buddhist figures, reflected the cultural interchange between the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms and the Tang dynasty, Tibet, and fascinatingly, the influence of Indian Buddhist sculptural styles and motifs is striking. This contact between India and the Nanzhao kingdom and on into China along what is known as the "southern silk road" has been little studied and our center hopes to provide space and facilities for doing research on ancient spiritual traditions, history, and the cross-cultural contact between the various peoples who passed through Shaxi.

Small ancient towns in Yunnan like Shaxi should become relaxed places outside the red dust of urban society and a base for cultural education. Tourists or students can obtain and learn from what they can often not get in other, more crowded, tourist spots. They can experience rural life, learn about the history of the region and the Bai or other peoples. This new model of tourism development can be implemented in other ethnic minority communities as the future as Yunnan's tourism continues to expand and develop.

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