Boat Outlook

JiuXiang Lake and The Construction of Tourism in Rural China

China is well known as the place where construction, whether it is cities that are built up or from scratch or entire landscapes that are being re-arranged, is booming. Or perhaps, bubbling and waiting to burst.

But then, some places, things look different.

Where my wife’s parents live and she grew up, Jiubujiang, Youxian, Hunan, (see impressions in the previous post) people of course build their homes, and they like to build them up. Still, this is the countryside, and there are no buildings taller than five stories around until one gets to the nearest city, Youxian proper, at least. What was built, decades ago, was one of China’s many dams. In this case, not for hydroelectric generation, and no, not making for a story of troublesome relocations and grandiose projects, but just creating a little reservoir lake.

To many of the residents, the lake entrance has turned into a place where to walk on evening strolls and see if there is a nice cool breeze to enjoy during these hot and stifling summers, and the lake and the pool at its outlet are also regularly-visited swimming holes.

The JiuXiang Lake and the forest reserve surrounding it have also been developed into a tourist spot, however, with walking trails and scenic spots at different parts of the lake, boats going to and hither, for small lake cruises and leisurely strolls. Tourists are attracted; entrance ticket prices are set to soar.

It is utterly interesting because people are a bit conflicted about it.

On the one hand, it brings development and economic opportunity to a place otherwise very much rural and farming-based unless one or the other factory decides to move here (or gets founded by a resident). One of the bigger factories around, however, is all but dilapidated and in the process of decaying.

On the other hand, though, more people and more development also mean more pollution, and there is some nostalgia about the way things used to be, with water that was running clean(er), air that was rather fresher, and food that was of less dubious quality (although, the condition of that seems not to be too bad).

Also, things go very differently for different people in different places. As much as the Westerner may decry that China’s ethnic minorities are often presented as quaint and somewhat backwards friendly little brothers and sisters to the civilized and urbane ‘true’ Han Chinese, they often seem to find it easier to present their exotic otherness and use it as a sales point. The Tujia village on the lake certainly gets its fair share of tourists and, by the looks of it, isn’t doing too badly. Just be one of the Han of whom there are so many around, away from the places the tourists go, and without the proper drive and connections to get things done and profit, though, and chances are you won’t find many chances for living in much of any difference from generations before you.

From here, social mobility still looks quite possible, though, if only you dare try and/or get your child to do very well in school and then at one of the great universities – if you can afford to put them through those. Everybody knows who’s made it and what luxuries making it may (according to TV, certainly) entail, though, and so dissatisfaction is also around, whether about personal choices that have held one back or the way things increasingly are, with government buildings rising to ever more pompous heights (not here, though) and the cards being ever more stacked against those starting out from the valleys and troughs of the social order.

Meanwhile, however, life goes on, and things change, and hopefully not just falling like the level of the lake in the current heat and drought.

And what's your take?