What has happened since 2001 when Zhongdian (中甸), a traditionally Tibetan village in Yunnan Province, changed its name to Shangri-la after the “lost paradise” immortalized in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon?
Minnpost.com has just published Manufacturing Shangri-la, a 3-part series, that explores that question, particularly the seemingly inevitable impact of tourism, not just foreign but domestic too:
Across China, minorities not seen as a threat (Tibetans, Uighurs) are generally portrayed as colorful people who sing and dance and love to entertain visitors.
This stereotype is visible at Yunnan’s ethnic tourism sights. Strolling around Lijiang, a tourist-mobbed town south of Shangri-la, can be shocking for many Americans accustomed to political correctness. Women in “native” costumes—many of them Han—wave clappers outside a raucous strip of bars, where patrons watch dancers in neon headdresses perform Tibetan, Lisu and Yi moves to thumping music.
“The different cultures have different standards of what’s a good tourist time,” says Ed Grumbine, an American professor who studies botany in Yunnan. “In the US, if you had a bunch of Hispanic people dressing up and doing a Navajo dance and claiming it was legitimate, it would be an outrage. In China, it’s not an outrage, it’s business as usual.”
Indeed, commercializing the culture is the whole point. And rather than being a source of tension, the added income is a key ingredient in Shangri-La’s peaceful coexistence.