China’s Image Abroad: Tourism

China’s tourism industry is booming. With 55.98 million visitors in 2010, it is ranked as the world’s third leading travel destination, currently trailing behind only France, and the USA. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, it will have overtaken them both by 2016-2018, this is a rapid rise in popularity considering that up until the mid 70’s China was closed to foreign tourism. It’s not hard to understand the attraction, China as a country is magnificent, mysterious and beautiful, it’s culture is the complete opposite to ours making it exotic and exciting.

When you look through travel brochures or travel agent’s websites you will most likely be greeted with an image of a panda, or a picturesque landscape, or ancient sculptures, nothing modern certainly. This massively contrasts with how China now wishes to be seen by the world. China’s desire to become more westernized has seen it disregard large parts of its heritage, it wants to be taken seriously as a major player in the world. Proof of this effort is visible in Beijing where less than five per cent of its buildings will remain by the end of its modernization revolution. This shiny and intimidating version is the polar opposite to the oriental and delicate version of the landscape portrayed to tourists. There is no doubt that Beijing is vastly impressive and worth visiting, but would most people travel to the country if they only got to see this westernized China, and not authentic China? Probably not.

The most famous example of an oriental Chinese landmark is of course the magnificent Great Wall of China. Mistakenly believed to be a single wall that circumferences China, it is actually a discontinuous network of individual wall segments built by various different dynasties over a period of 2000 years to protect China’s northern border. Another commonly believed myth is that the wall is the only man made object visible from space. This tale possibly originated from Richard Halliburton’s book “Second Book of Marvels”, which was published in 1938 before humans had ever seen the earth from space. When you consider these two revelations plus that the wall has been largely restored in both the 50’s and the 80’s, suddenly the Great Wall doesn’t seem quite so mind blowing. It is often the case that the sections not in the public eye are in a serious state of disrepair and sometimes eradicated due to ageing and the locals pinching the bricks. Adding to the facts the description of it being the “largest cemetery of earth” as 1 million people died during its construction, this wonder of the world doesn’t seem so quite so wonderful anymore. This is obviously not the way the wall is portrayed to potential tourists, that’s not to say that the way it is presented is false though, there is not doubt that the building of the wall was a truly remarkable feat and is an important piece of Chinese history. Nobody can criticize China, or travel businesses, for fudging the negatives and making a bigger deal out of the positives, every country does, it would be bad logic not to.

Even if China is evolving as a nation its history and traditions will always exist. People will still travel to see its vibrant and beautiful architecture, its breathtaking landscapes and to experience its rich and thrilling history. China is sold as being a nation that still retains it’s traditions, rituals and strong identity, and this is because it does truly still retain all these elements, unlike many other nations who have left these behind in their cultural revolutions. I believe this is why China can be so popular, that despite that much of the country is unrecognizable from how it looked just two decades ago, it’s people still retain the essence of China and oriental China lingers on in them, in the rural areas at least, because it is still alive in their memories. Even if some areas like Beijing have left the old behind and moved onto the new, this diversity in the country makes it even more fascinating to explore and discover.

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