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Cultural landscapes are combined work of man and nature. In 1992, the World Heritage Convention adopted the cultural landscape in the World Heritage List. In Asia, the ongoing urbanization and rural-urban migration have threatened the continuing cultural landscapes as people leave their homes. Tourism has brought new challenges and opportunities to these areas, while its impacts on the cultural landscape are inadequately researched. This paper aims to fill the gap through case studies of two subtropical rice terraced field cultural landscapes in China’s highlands. A stakeholder approach is applied in understanding the attitudes and practices of different agents towards terraced fields and traditional villages. Mixed method research, including researching secondary materials, in-depth interviews, participant observation, and questionnaire surveys were conducted on local households and other stakeholders. The continuing urbanization process threatens the cultivation traditions by displacing agricultural livelihoods, rural-urban migration, and enabling young generations to abandon work on the farmlands. Tourism may slow down the loss of terraced fields by providing alternative opportunities and attracting people to return from the cities, while the commodification in tourism businesses also led to dramatic changes to the village landscapes. The continuing cultural landscapes are created collaboratively by people and nature, and by the collaborative practice of people. Effective management policies on cultural landscapes must put their creators and their livelihoods at the center rather than the physical manifestations. Tourism and conservation policies should evaluate the interests of all stakeholders and their behavioral consequences on cultural landscapes.

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1In 1992, the World Heritage Convention adopted Cultural Landscape as a category in the World Heritage List. To date, 114 properties worldwide have been inscribed as Cultural Landscapes, representing “combined work by man and nature (UNESCO, 1999).” The evolution of cultural landscapes in contemporary China is contextualized by the rapid socio-economic changes and the very definition of ethnicity. China has experienced rapid urbanization and, since the economic reforms in 1978, history’s largest flow of rural-urban migration in the world; the income differential between their rural home and urban destinations was a driving factor (Zhang and Song, 2003). According to the government, the urban population increased from 17.92% in 1978 to 59.58% in 2018 (NBSC, 2019). Tourism in China started to grow fast in the 1990s; the number of domestic tourists rose from 524 million person-times in 1994 to 5,539 million in 2018, and the number of international tourists increased from 5.89 million person times in 1995 to 30.54 million in 2018 (NBSC, 2019). As internal mobility became feasible and the country started to open to international travelers, ethnic areas began to embrace tourism development like many other rural areas of China in the 1990s. The ongoing rural out-migration has threatened the cultural landscapes in ethnic areas that rely on people’s living practices, while tourism may bring new reasons for people to stay. However, tourism is a “double-edged sword” (Diedrich and García 2009), and this may also be true in the context of cultural landscapes where on the one hand tourism gives reasons for preserving the fading traditions against the dilutions of modernity and on the other hand as modern phenomenon tourism reshapes the old via the power of commodification. If tourism is introduced to an ethnic area, it may impact the ethnicity (Van den Berghe and Keyes, 1984) and livelihoods of local people (Tao and Wall, 2009), cause commodification of culture (Shepherd, 2002), resulting in irreversible damage to the physical forms and meanings of cultural landscapes. However, the effects of tourism on cultural landscapes is inadequately researched in literature.

2The objective of this paper is to investigate how tourism can cause changes in cultural landscapes in the highlands of southern China. This is achieved by investigating the influences of multiple stakeholders in tourism on the cultural landscape constructs. The focus of the empirical study was on UNESCO Cultural Heritage site, Honghe Rice Terraces (Honghe), and a National Scenic Area, Longji Terraced Fields (Longji) in southern China, where ethnic minority people historically cultivated rice and constructed terraced fields on mountainous slopes for food production. The cultural landscapes in Honghe and Longji have been identified and conserved under national and international frameworks. Honghe, located near the border between China and Vietnam in Yunnan province, was inscribed as Cultural Landscape of World Cultural Heritage for its distinctive socio-economic religious systems and its physical manifestation in the shape of the terraces (UNESCO, 2013). Longji is a National Scenic Area that locates in Guilin, Guangxi province. National Scenic Area (“Fengjing mingshengqu”) in China refers to a famous “area with concentrated landscape resources, with comprehensive ornamental, culture or science value, and with possibilities for visitation or conducting scientific or cultural activities” (Du et al., 2019). Longji is also designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage site (GIAHS) of “Rice Terraces System in Southern Mountainous and Hilly Areas of China” for its food and livelihood security and cultural landscape features (FAO, 2018).

3Mixed-method research, including extensive literature search on the two famous tourism destinations, interviews and questionnaire surveys was conducted on the primary tourism stakeholders to examine the tourism development process, the events that changed the landscapes, and the livelihood trajectories of local households. According to Freeman (2010, p. 46), a stakeholder is any group or individual who can affect or is affected by tourism development in an area. Multiple stakeholders may perceive the issues and facts of tourism development, and their perspective may reflect, triangulate, and complement the multi-facets of what happens in tourism areas. Plumwood’s (2006) cultural landscape model was used as a conceptual framework to understand the possible means that agents in tourism can impact cultural landscapes. Both authors of this paper have stayed in and researched tourism in both places. Wang conducted fieldwork in four ethnic Yao and Zhuang ethnic villages in Longji (Ping An, Dazhai, Guzhuang, and Xiaozhai) and seven Hani and Yi ethnic Yuanyang (Qingkou, Mengpin, Pugaolaozhai, Xinzhai, Azheke, Aicun, and Duoyishu) in 2016 and 2018 and Graburn visited the villages of Ping An and Dazhai in 2011 and 2018. In total, 17 interviews were carried out and 293 questionnaires were collected in Longji.

4The study found that the processes of urbanization and commodification in a Chinese context have had significant impacts through the migration behavior and daily practice of multiple stakeholders on the Cultural Landscapes of the UNESCO Heritage sites. Nevertheless, the level of impacts on the tangible landscapes and the associated meanings largely depends on the nature of the inclusion of the community in tourism and the effectiveness of the resulting cultural management, as on the public stakeholders actions.

I. Cultural landscape and ethnicity in a Chinese context

A. The notion of cultural landscape and its use in cultural heritage conservation in China

5The phrase “cultural landscape” was first used by German historians and French geographers in their writings in the mid/late 19th century, it was introduced as a term to academia in the early 20th century (Fowler, 2002). Sauer (1925) gave a classic definition: “the cultural landscape is fashioned from a natural landscape by a culture group; culture is the agent, the natural area the medium, the cultural landscape the result.” Plumwood (2006) made the criticism that Sauer’s model left “no room for natural forces as significant creators of elements in the land,” but rather that human agents and nonhuman agents (the natural system) collaboratively created cultural landscape. Plumwood commented that the concepts of cultural landscape involve a subtle imposition of the dominant western model that posits a hegemonic, creative agent conceived as acting on an inert, passive field treated as an instrument (or ‘medium’ in Sauer’s terms); he turned to suggest the terms “collaborative” or “interactive” landscape which names nature as well as culture as responsible agents. The assessment of authenticity and integrity of cultural landscape should focus on the entirety of relationships between humans and nature, rather than separately assessing its cultural or natural components. Document 1 shows a model of the cultural landscape, according to Plumwood.

Document 1. Model of Cultural Landscape

Document 1. Model of Cultural Landscape

Drawn by the author according to Plumwood (2006).

6In the context of China, Ding (1992, p.4) articulates the term “landscape” in traditional Chinese culture as “a culture of the interface between nature and humans”, and as “the part of nature that has been sensed and consciously constructed by human beings through history.” This has resulted in a different understanding of the cultural landscape in China, as pointed out by Han (2006), the meaning of landscape in the Chinese context sits at the core of culture and is more “culture” than the Western term of “cultural landscape”, the term of cultural landscape might be problematic. Taylor (2008) noted that given the traditional relationship between nature and culture in Eastern cultures where people are not separate from nature, cultural landscape is understood as a dilemma, the conjunction of ‘cultural’ with ‘landscape’ might be seen to be a tautology. Han (2006) also noted that whilst the contemporary western cultural landscape of cultural geography shows a tendency towards culture, China tends to be more focused on scientific values. Nevertheless, the concept of cultural landscape has provided a useful tool to bridge the culture-nature binary in theory and practice and has been adopted by the government to enlarge heritage sites in China (Han, 2010).

7The conceptualization of cultural landscape has led to an embrace of the concept in cultural heritage management and conservation. This resulted partly from criticism of the 1970s and 1980s Western-inspired heritage focus on tangible monuments and famous sites (Zhang and Taylor, 2020). This movement is regarded as a conservation narrative of cultural landscapes, which extended the concept of cultural heritage to focus on both tangible fabrics and on the importance of people and their associated values (Taylor, 2017). In 1992, Cultural Landscape was adopted as a World Heritage category by the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. In Annex 3 of “Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (2005)”, cultural landscapes represent the combined works of nature and man, they are illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environments and of successive social, economic and cultural forces, both external and internal (Chief, 2006). Three categories of Cultural Landscape are:

(1) The most easily identifiable is the clearly defined landscape designed and created intentionally by man. This embraces garden and parkland landscapes constructed for aesthetic reasons which are often (not always) associated with religious or other monumental buildings and ensembles.
(2) The second category is the originally evolved landscape. This results from an initial social, economic, administrative, and/or religious imperative and has developed its present form by association with and in response to its natural environment. Such landscapes reflect that process of evolution in their form and component features. They fall into two sub-categories: the relict (or fossil) landscape and the continuing landscape.
(3)The final category is the associative cultural landscape. The inclusion of such landscapes on the World Heritage List is justifiable by virtue of the powerful religious, artistic or cultural associations of the natural element rather than material cultural evidence, which may be insignificant or even absent.
Annex 3, Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, 2005

8The meaning given by UNESCO Cultural Landscape reflects to the general notion of cultural landscape and allowed the identification and nomination of such landscapes. To date, 114 properties on the World Heritage List have been included as cultural heritage (UNESCO, 2020). Cultural Landscapes have opened a new avenue for international collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on agricultural landscape (Mitchell, Rössler, and Tricaud, 2009). In 2002, FAO started an initiative for the conservation of GIAHS to safeguard and support the world’s agricultural heritage systems, and many agricultural producing areas have been designated as Cultural Landscapes.

9In relation to the focus of this paper, terraced rice fields are typical cultural landscapes in Asia and the Pacific Region, formed in close association with rice-growing agricultural practices (Motonaka, 2003). Terraced rice fields are found as a “continuing landscape” in the World Heritage List, which is defined as the cultural heritage “which retains an active social role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life, and in which the evolutionary process is still in progress” (Chief, 2006). Cultural landscapes are currently threatened by the dangers of homogenization of societies through globalization (Ramakrishnan, 2001). Changes to the traditional socioeconomic systems also bring uncertainties to the terrace fields. The Philippines Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras provide an example. The terraces were inscribed as Cultural Landscape in the World Heritage List in 1995, while in 2002 it became the first World Heritage cultural landscape to be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger (Fowler, 2002) as 25-30% of the terraces were abandoned, leading to the damage to some of the walls (Mitchell, Rössler, and Tricaud, 2009). The erosion of the terraced fields is, in turn, due to the fundamental problem that people continue to leave the land and to unregulated development in the wake of tourism (Phillips and Zhijun, 2001). The rice terraced fields in southern China highlands were created by multiple ethnic minorities. The tangible terraced fields, lifestyles, and ethnicity together form the inherent parts of highland cultural landscapes according to Plumwood’s model. As tourism may greatly affect the terraced fields and the local people’s lifestyles due to its power to change people’s livelihoods, farming practices, and local institutional processes, the traditional cultural heritage management framework that emphasizes on the physical relics is obviously inadequate to conserve the Cultural Landscape sites. The notion of cultural landscape in a Chinese context is used as a lens to understand the cultural heritage, in which ethnicity is seen as an inherent cultural landscape construct.

B. Tourism and Ethnicity in China: Impacts of the State

10The contemporary Peoples Republic of China consists of a majority Han people, and fifty-five minority ethnic groups, called shaoshu minzu, meaning “minority nationalities.” Though the Han Chinese comprise more than 91% of the population, the other fifty-five groups total more than 110 million people, and they occupy about half the land of China, mainly in the less urban areas of the Northwest, West and Southwest. Some of these “minority peoples” number over 10 million, as do the Zhuang peoples, the main topic of this chapter, and the Hani, the focus of Dao’s (2020) case study in this issue, number 1.6 million. Soon after the Communist victory in 1949, a new political order was created out of the more than 400 named ethnic peoples in China, most of whom were deemed to be evolutionarily backward compared to the ruling Han, the inheritors of Chinese civilization. A national ethnic classification project (minzu shibie) was established in 1954 (Mullaney, 2010) with considerable direction from London-trained anthropologist Fei Xiaotong, resulting after a few years in fifty-six ethnic groups, including the Han. The minority groups were subject to the policies originated by the Soviet Commissioner for Nationalities in 1919, Josef Stalin, they can be summarized “Nationalist in form, Socialist in content.” Each group was allowed its own territory, name, language, cultural distinctions such as clothing, art and cuisine, and eventually self-governance within the Communist system.

11Under Mao these “primitive” peoples were urged to modernize through the provision of elementary education in Mandarin and often their own language (many groups were illiterate, but the Tibetans, Manchu, Bai and others had their own literature). The educated members were expected to represent their people in local and regional governance and to foster the projects of communication through new roads, electrification and hence radio and telephones, enabling them to modernize their agriculture and to migrate to urban blue collar jobs. At the same time “old” (backward) customs, such as religion and superstition, foot-binding, polygamy, and infanticide were banned. After 1978, the commercial expansion of the nation brought more possibilities of migration and wage labour, and the urban population, mainly Han, grew wealthier and had more freedom to travel. Tourism to monuments of Chinese civilization was encouraged and this came to include famous “Scenic Areas” in the countryside (Nyiri, 2006).

12Ethnic tourism was soon promoted in the 1980s for both political and economic reasons (Graburn, 2015). Tourism of the middle classes to more marginal often rural areas where many of the more exotic minority people lived encouraged the imagination of China as a multicultural society in which all are united as Communist Chinese. The urban tourists wanted to see authentic traditional cultures, in dance, song and ritual performances, colorful clothing and unique cuisines, and the marginal ethnic peoples were proud that some features of their cultural alterity were appreciated. Furthermore, the wealthier urbanites were able to spend money on entrance fees, photo opportunities, foods and souvenirs – but the Han companies which organized the local tourism industry usually took most of the profits (Feng, 2017). Though the local people rarely made good wages or profits from being a ‘tourist destination,’ the younger adults often made enough for them to stay home, rather than emigrating and living in distant cities, hollowing out the rural villages leaving only old people and children. Anthropologists have focused on ethnic tourism as in China anthropology is defined as the study of minority ethnic groups and tourism has become a major issue both for its possible negative impacts as well as its positive developmental dimensions (Tan, Cheung and Yang, 2001).

13Many of these ‘scenic areas’ are nationally known and famous for their landscape and for the special ethnic peoples who live there; for instance the UNESCO world natural heritage site the Stone Forest (Shilin) in Yunnan, is associated with the Sani ethnic group. These agriculturally-based peoples came to serve as colorfully dressed guides and food and souvenir sellers (Swain 1989) for the numerous tourists from all over China. The two spectacular rice-terraced mountain regions of Honghe and Longji discussed in this issue are perhaps the two most famous scenic areas in China with landscapes notable for their ethnic culture, with the latter getting around a million tourists a year. These scenic spots, outstanding for their changing seasonal views are enhanced by the human-made rice terraces as well as the village cultures of the local ethnic minority peoples.

II. Cultural Landscape and the Process of Tourism Development

14The traditional cultural landscapes in Longji consist of the organic system of people, their livelihoods, and terraced fields, traditional villages, and their ethnicity, and social norms. The subtropical terraced fields in Longji have been created and maintained for over 600 years by Yao and Zhuang People (Wang, 2009a; Tsukada, 2016). Six major ethnic villages are located within the Longji area. Terraced fields, rural villages, forests, and the water distribution system compose an integrated agricultural livelihood system. The traditional cultural landscape in Longji comprises mainly the rice paddy fields and traditional ethnic villages. Most villages and terraced fields can be found on the steep mountain slopes or valley bottoms. The terraced fields surround the ethnic villages. From the south to north were the villages of Jinzhu, Guzhuang, Huangluo, Ping An, Dazhai, and Xiaozhai. The Yao and Zhuang people migrated to this area in the 1300s and lived in these villages. They built the villages with wood and started to construct the terraced fields on the mountain slopes to practice rice cultivation. Before the 1980s, agriculture was the only economic sector in the Longji area. Local people relied on agricultural livelihoods in the terraced fields: rice cultivation, farming fish in the irrigated paddy fields and raising buffalo.

15The original Longji cultural landscapes showed a close tie between people’s agricultural practice and natural conditions (Document 2). Paddy fields were constructed along the hillside contours to maximize the agricultural land use in mountainous areas, water was channeled from the up-slope forests to the paddy fields for rice cultivation. Terraced fields were the critical physical capital for many agricultural livelihoods. Sustaining the terraced rice fields relied on the local natural environment and regular manual maintenance. In Longji, rice was harvested once a year. The agricultural cycle includes plowing the terraces and transplanting the seedlings in early May and harvesting the ripe crops in late October. Modern machines were not used in the terraced fields because of the terrain. Instead, the farmers used buffalo and traditional plows in the spring preparation. The rice harvest also had to be carried out by human labor. Pig, fish, and chicken were the primary kinds of livestock raised in Longji households. Agricultural livelihoods, including rice cultivation, feeding fish, growing corn, beans and vegetables were carried out on the terraced fields.

Document 2. The cultural landscape of Longji Terraced Fields.

Document 2. The cultural landscape of Longji Terraced Fields.

Photo by Wang Z., 2018

16While the terraced fields served as the center for agricultural production, the villages served as the hub of social life. Human settlements are highly concentrated geographically and socially in Longji. Geographically concentrated settlements are called Zu (group) in administrative terms or Zhai (village unit), which can be as small as only several households or as large as over a hundred households. A cluster of Zu forms a Cun (village) in administrative terms. Zu or Zhai usually follows the line of clans, while Cun is usually comprised of one major ethnicity. One exception is found in Guzhuang Village, which is composed of both Yao and Zhuang Zus. The design of traditional architecture was a suitable fit with the functionality of agricultural activities. The traditional Yao and Zhuang wooden houses usually have two or three stories with the first floor for keeping livestock like buffalo and the upper floor for human residence (Document 3). 

Document 3. The traditional Yao wooden house.

Document 3. The traditional Yao wooden house.

Photo by Wang Z., 2018

17Tourism started in Longji in the 1990s. In 1992, the Longsheng County government founded Longsheng Tourism Corporation for developing tourism in the Longji area, and they invested in renovating the original mud road from Huangluo village to Ping An (Wu and Wu, 2014). The early tourists were photographers and backpackers. In 1997, villagers in Ping An constructed a proper road to the village. The following year, Longji Scenic Area was established. Package tours started to visit Ping An village. In 2004, there were 43 homestay hostels in Ping An village (Wu, 2005). After a series of mergers and acquisitions, the subsidiary of Longsheng Tourism Corporation, called Lonji Tourism Company, started to take charge of the operation and management of the Scenic Area. Longsheng Tourism Corporation was a state-owned company, which means that the government owned all shares, while Longji Tourism Company was a state-held company, meaning that the government owned somewhat over 50% rather than all shares. Therefore, the Longsheng country government and Longji Tourism Corporation were the primary stakeholders in tourism development. Besides, village committees constitute important stakeholders, responsible for implementing village-level policies regarding managing collectively owned resources like homestead and farmlands, constructing village roads and other basic infrastructure, alleviating poverty and improving welfare, as well as organizing village activities. The influence of the state on tourism development of Longji was through the county government and its controlled tourism company. While the tourism company was encouraged to achieve business success through planning, operating and promotion, the county and local government provided the company with essential support in land and community policies. Other tourism stakeholders included small private companies running transportation and hotel businesses, and individual self-employed business owners who mainly operated hostels and restaurants. Most of the individual businesses were by local villagers, and some came to Longji from elsewhere in China. Two or three foreigners even came to Ping An to run hostels.

18The tremendous rice terraces landscapes and unique ethnic rural villages attracted both domestic and overseas tourists and visitors. Mass tourism to Longji first developed since the 1990s (Chio, 2014; Sun and Wu, 2013; Wang, 2009a; Wang, 2009b). The number of visitors has dramatically increased since 1990, reaching nearly one million per year in 2015 (Document 4). Domestic and overseas tourists came to Longji, which is close to Guilin city (3-hour drive), a famous Chinese destination with a high-speed railway station and an airport, making it very accessible.

Document 4. Annual visitation to Longji Terraced Fields Scenic Area.

Document 4. Annual visitation to Longji Terraced Fields Scenic Area.

Note. Longsheng Tourism Board (2016).

19The entire Longji Terraced Fields Scenic Area is comprised of four separated terraced field areas: Longji Guzhuang Terraced Fields, Ping An Zhuang Terraced Fields, Jinkeng Red Yao Terraced Fields, and Xiaozhai Red Yao Terraced Fields. The center of each terraced field area is an ethnic village (Document 5).

Document 5. Location and map of Honghe and Longji.

Document 5. Location and map of Honghe and Longji.

20The major attractions are several terraced field landscapes, including “Seven Stars with the Moon,” which was made up of seven small round terraced fields and one round field full of water, as well as “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers” and “Thousand Layers of Sky Ladder.” The traditional villages were parts of the terraced field landscape, and themselves were major attractions. Tourists have to walk through the villages to reach the viewing platforms at upper levels. Hence, villages became the hub of supplying tourism services like food and accommodation. The earliest tourism development was in Jinzhu village, which located at the bottom of the Longji valley. Tourism then started in Ping An in the 1990s, Dazhai in the early 2010s, and Xiaozhai more recently. Ping An and Dazhai were the most popular destinations: Ping An had a record of receiving package tours, while Dazhai was well known among backpackers. Modern infrastructure like electricity and tap water had not been built before the 1990s in the villages. However, tourism has brought modern facilities like roads, car parks, street lamps, and fire hydrants.

III. Cultural Landscape Transformation: A Game of Stakeholders

A. Community’s Perspective: Transforming Landscapes of Livelihoods

21One disturbing discovery in Longji was that some rural households had given up traditional agricultural livelihoods like rice cultivation in the past two decades, resulting in the abandonment of paddy fields in many areas. Terraced fields near Tiantou village and Xiaozhai village are found partly idle or with other kinds of plant cover, spoiling the terraces’ appearance. In the context of urbanization changed in livelihood may account for terraced field abandonment. As the road network and transportation enabled the encroachment of tourism starting in Longji in the early 1990s, it also enabled the Longji people to start seasonal emigration to work in the cities to earn a cash income. The questionnaire survey on random households in four villages of Longji shows that the number of households with migrant workers has gradually increased. The destinations for migrant workers are mostly eastern coastal cities. Although most households involved in seasonal migrant work would not give up rice cultivation, a statistically small proportion of them had changed entirely to non-agricultural livelihoods. Seasonal migrant work might also become permanent migration through successful careers (or failures) or marriage in the urban areas, which may eventually reduce the farming population in Longji villages.

22Perhaps, what more alarming are the migration intentions of the younger generation and their attitudes towards rice cultivation. In 2018 the responses to household questionnaires show that when asked, “How likely will the young people (<25) migrate out to the town or cities in the future?” 43% of respondents (2018) expressed their intentions to out-migrate. The reasons for out-migration were either for education, better personal development, a better environment in the cities, or more employment opportunities. When further asked, “how likely will the young people continue cultivating the rice terraces?” 46% of respondents (2018) said young people (<25) would not continue rice cultivation considering their personal development, they “do not know how to cultivate”, are working or studying in the outside, or feeling that “cultivation is too hard”. In Longji, only Ping An and Dazhai had elementary schools. Children would have to go to the nearby township Heping to attend junior high school and to Longsheng County for high school education. Therefore, if the children were to continue education after elementary school, they would have to leave home. During the fieldwork, young farmers were rarely seen.

23However, the burgeoning tourism industry also brings alternative livelihood opportunities for villagers, especially the younger generation, to stay and continue rice cultivation. Tourism development triggered the booming of hostel and restaurant businesses in Ping An and Dazhai. With their homestead lands, some local villagers had built guesthouse hostels using their saved money or loans from local banks. Although there were some outside investors, from east coast cities or even from other countries who came to invest hostels, hotels, and restaurants, most businesses are still run by local villagers. Most of the outside investors came to Longji for hostel businesses, renting a village house for 15-20 years from the villagers and modifying into a modern hostel. Some of them came for the lifestyle. A bar owner in Dazhai came from northeastern China to play music, he then married a local girl, while his parents only came to Longji once a year to spend their holidays. The point is, the lifestyle of the outside investors, whether imagined or lived, was different from the traditional way of life in Longji. They have not engaged in farm work, so they have no contact with the land.

24In both Ping An and Guzhuang villages workers were found coming back from cities to run tourism businesses. Some of them even had college degrees. For them, tourism provides alternative livelihoods to working in the cities, it also offers an attractive lifestyle and opportunities for both lucrative wage labor and entrepreneurship practices for young people (Chio, 2013, 2014). Performances for tourists, featuring local and regional ethnic music, song and dance, were developed bringing money and prestige (Turner, 2011).

25A high level of community participation in tourism has kept most local people in their own lands, but it also reshaped village landscapes. The increasing number of hostels usually require land from terraced fields. Over the years, the traditional villages have expanded and invaded terraced fields. The commodification of traditional houses into hostels is manifested largely in the changing architectural forms to maximize profits. Some new wooden houses have over seven stories, much taller than the traditional three-story houses, breaking the integrity of the traditional village landscapes.

26The use of modern materials like brick and concrete in the house building has been increasing. Traditional villages grew in any direction that they could expand. In the evening, the lights light up the alleys and buildings, the once tranquil mountainous villages perform like prosperous commercial towns. Foreign cultural elements were also involved in hostel design in Longji to attract international tourists (Document 6). A youth hostel was found in Dazhai and one café opened by local people in Ping An served mainly foreigner customers.

Document 6. Ping An village hotels with international appeal.

Document 6. Ping An village hotels with international appeal.

Photo by Graburn N., 2010

B. State and Tourism Company’s Perspective: Commodification of Culture

27The state-held tourism company dominates tourism development and promotion in Longji. The company set strict regulations to prevent the terraced fields from being replaced. Local villagers are not allowed to replace rice with other plants in a “core scenic zone” identified by the tourism company, while large areas of commercially planted monk fruits were found in the non-core zone of the Longji scenic area. Although cultivation using buffalo is still prevalent, in 2018 Graburn found that some farmers use modern machines but hide them from tourists when they are not in use. However, the tourism company could not stop people from abandoning terraced fields. Villagers from nearby villages were paid by the company to cultivate abandoned terraced fields in the core zone. Thus, “authentic” traditional terraced fields are staged for the tourist experience. This feature of “subsidized tradition” was also applied to the houses in the Hani villages on the Honghe Yuanyang terraces. They are advertised by the government as “mushroom houses” because they had thatched sloping roofs, even though the Hani preferred flat metal roofs on which to dry their vegetable produce. So, the local government paid each household ca. 1,200 yuan a year to keep them picturesquely thatched (Wang Y., 2008).

28Another effort by tourism companies to protect terraces is to compensate local communities for rice cultivation. 7% of the annual revenues from entrance tickets is distributed to local households for cultivating the terraced fields. This year-basis “terraced fields maintenance fee” or “tourism compensation” encouraged villagers to continue farming. The compensation resulted from bargaining between the locals and the Tourism company. During the 2000s, most of the revenue from tourism in Ping An went to the tourism company. Villagers were unsatisfied with the benefit distribution and complained that the Tourism Company “had done nothing for the village except collecting money.” The dissatisfaction then escalated to conflicts between the Tourism company and Ping An villagers (Sun and Wu, 2013). The latter blocked the road coming to Ping An during the peak season. The two conflicts ended with the tourism company making compromises, increasing the dividend given to the village from RMB 25,000 yuan in 2000 to RMB 75,000 yuan in 2007. The percent was then finalized at 7%. In 2018, each Ping An household could receive RMB 30,000 – 40,000 yuan from this compensation.

Document 7. Commodified terraced fields

Document 7. Commodified terraced fields

Photo by Wang Z.

29To attract more tourists, the tourism company have recently adopted measures to “beautify the landscapes” of the terraced fields. In Guzhuang village, traditional rice plants were displaced by other rice species that exhibited different colors. This area of terraced fields was promoted as the “five-color terraces” (Document 7). However, the colorful rice plants do not produce rice grain, meaning that these terraced fields were commodified only for attracting the tourists. Similar “landscaping cultivation” was also found in Xiaozhai, where people cultivated different species of rice to form the Chinese characters for “Welcome to Xiaozhai.” The meanings of terraced fields as a cultural landscape for traditional food production have been lost in this commodification. Similarly, the Honghe Hani realized that the strongest tourist interest was in photographing the water-filled rive terraces, with reflections of the sky, the moon or the clouds, which disappeared later in the seasons when the rice grew up to fill the terraces. The Hani suggested to the government that if the tourists and photographers wanted to pay the locals for the reflective water-filled terraces, they could give up growing rice, which they could easily buy in the markets of the local towns, and make more money that way. They called this “Pushing rice for water.” (Wang Y., 2008).

C. Cultural Landscape Management: Influences from Local Governance.

30Fire has dramatically changed the materials and appearance of the traditional landscapes in Longji. Although historically fire was not caused by tourism development, tourism impacted the restoration of the villages after the fire. For instance, in Ping An village, according to the interviewees, the catering industry boom in Ping An began in 2008. Initially, there were strict regulations from the Tourism Company on new house construction in the village: the maximum height of the new buildings was restricted to three floors and the facades had to be made from wood. However, a big fire in Ping An destroyed many traditional wooden houses in 2010. After the fire, to prevent the further damage from fire, some households were allowed by the local government to rebuild their houses using concrete and brick to form a “fire belt.” However, the government was unable to prevent other villagers from building new concrete and brick buildings. Since then, the implementation of construction regulations in Ping An village has failed. We recorded the following description of what happened:

After the Ping An fire of 2010, the government considered building a fire belt because all houses were wooden buildings. However, in selecting the households, the government’s documents favored themselves and their relatives. So, when other villagers also began to build new concrete houses and violating the regulations, they dared not to remove the illegal buildings. Thus, construction activities could not be controlled anymore, illegal houses overflowed in this village. People could build new houses if they wished, and they could build as high as they wanted. This village was then in chaos. At that time there was no planning in this village, people could build a new house if they had money. 
(A hostel owner, interview, 2018)

Some leaders of the tourism company owned shares in several hostels. That is why they (the tourism company) cannot control it. They (people who constructed illegally and the tourism company) all have problems. It is not a simple problem if you expose it layer by layer. For the villagers who constructed illegally, they (the government) would come and give you pressure, and the villagers would be safe if they remove some bricks symbolically during the investigation. When they (the government) left, they (villagers) would do whatever they want. It is because everyone in the village knows that some leaders hold shares! These huge hostels are the ones in which they hold shares. 
(A local resident, interview, 2018)

31The interviews indicated complex causes of the boom in illegal construction in Ping An. There is no doubt that cultural management policies had ceased to be implemented, implying that the local institutions did not effectively protect the cultural landscape because of the conflicts of interests. Cultural landscape conservation in the absence of superior monitoring, governance, and planning may lead to failure in implementing cultural management policies due to local nepotism. In 2018, there was another fire which damaged twenty-nine houses in Xiaozhai village. The cause of the fire was reported to be an elderly man making a fire which accidentally set light to the house. Xiaozhai was just involved in the scenic area before the fire. Most Yao wooden houses were kept in their traditional forms. However, the fire dramatically destroyed the village scenery. It is not yet known how the village was restored.

Concluding Remarks

32The changing cultural landscape in Longji is under the influence of the modern world’s inter-related processes - urbanization, commodification, and tourism – impacted multiple stakeholders in the villages. For local communities, cultural landscapes are products of their traditional agricultural activities. The continuing urbanization process threatens the cultivation traditions by displacing agricultural livelihoods, fostering rural-urban migration, and enabling young generations to abandon work on the farmlands. Tourism may slow down the loss of terraced fields by providing alternative opportunities and attracting people to return from the cities, while the commodification in tourism businesses also led to dramatic changes to the village landscapes. For the tourism company, terraced fields and traditional villages are commodities to sell to tourists. While involving local communities in tourism encouraged rice cultivation, the superficial commodification of cultural landscapes has resulted in the loss of the embedded meanings of the local culture. Local governance also influenced cultural landscapes. The case of reconstruction after Ping An fire showed that an effective and less corrupt local governance system should be established to guarantee the implementation of cultural management policies. Cultural landscape is the combined work of humans and nature. For agricultural cultural landscapes, farmers and their traditional livelihoods are inherent parts that deserve protection. Effective management policies on cultural landscapes must put their creators rather than physical manifestations in the center. The cultural landscapes in the case studies are created by local communities, however, tourism has involved multiple stakeholders in the game. The conflicts of interests among stakeholders continue to impact the cultural landscapes. Therefore, tourism should be included in the discourse of modern cultural landscapes. This notion extended Plumwood’s concept of collaborative cultural landscapes by adding a social domain. In a tourism context, the continuing cultural landscapes are created collaboratively by people and nature, and by the collaborative practice of people. Tourism policies should evaluate the interests of all stakeholders and their behavioral consequences on cultural landscapes. Further studies should focus on the social construction of cultural landscapes, and the effects of local power relations in the process.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Document 1. Model of Cultural Landscape
Crédits Drawn by the author according to Plumwood (2006).
Fichier image/png, 246k
Titre Document 2. The cultural landscape of Longji Terraced Fields.
Crédits Photo by Wang Z., 2018
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre Document 3. The traditional Yao wooden house.
Crédits Photo by Wang Z., 2018
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre Document 4. Annual visitation to Longji Terraced Fields Scenic Area.
Légende Note. Longsheng Tourism Board (2016).
Fichier image/png, 127k
Titre Document 5. Location and map of Honghe and Longji.
Fichier image/jpeg, 792k
Titre Document 6. Ping An village hotels with international appeal.
Légende Photo by Graburn N., 2010
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,3M
Titre Document 7. Commodified terraced fields
Crédits Photo by Wang Z.
Fichier image/jpeg, 238k
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Zhe Wang et Nelson Graburn, « Tourism and Cultural Landscapes in Southern China’s Highlands », Via [En ligne], 17 | 2020, mis en ligne le 20 octobre 2020, consulté le 26 mai 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Zhe Wang

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Nelson Graburn

University of California, Berkeley

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