21st Century China is a land of great contrast. Traditional farming villages now find themselves in the shadow of bustling, rapidly expanding cities, where both rich and poor are forced to adapt to life in this ever-changing landscape.
Attracting more tourists now than ever before, I decided it would be useful to interview people who haven’t been to China, in order to find out whether or not China is succeeding in their efforts to ‘sell’ themselves as both a modern country and exciting tourist destination.
When I asked people ‘what first comes to mind when you think of China?’ I received a variety of answers ranging from pandas to porcelain, however when I asked what they thought of the country as a tourist destination I got something slightly different…
The majority of people I spoke to believe that a trip to China would be a sightseeing holiday more than anything else, with references to the Forbidden City, the Terracotta Army, Tiananmen Square and of course the Great Wall. It would be a trip involving lots of travelling from one landmark to the next, each one packed with tourists, so certainly not a relaxing beach holiday. However, a small number of people I spoke to explained that they find it difficult to imagine China as a tourist destination at all; it is something that has never crossed their minds. They see it as intimidating and inaccessible. Interestingly, this group were all of an age that when growing up, China would still have been a fairly closed country, therefore, grew up somewhat unfamiliar with their culture.
I was surprised to find that the number of people I interviewed that would be interested in visiting China equalled the number of people that would not. By far the most popular reason given for wanting to travel to China is simply ‘to experience the culture.’ Other aspects that seem to attract people are, the traditional architecture, the fantastic sights and of course the food. However, probably more important are the things that seem to be putting people off…
It would appear that a number of the people I spoke to seem intimidated by the Chinese Communist government, some so much so that this is the sole reason that they would be unlikely to visit the country. An interesting response I received is that China is currently a land of massive social and economic inequality, an inequality that, in taking part in tourism there, you could potentially be contributing to. Meaning that money generated by tourism would be going straight into rapidly growing metropolises such as Shanghai and Beijing, rather than supporting the large population of people living in poor farming communities outside the cities.
Other issues that put people off the idea of visiting China include;
- The obvious pollution in cities such as Beijing.
- How busy the cities are with people and traffic.
- The language barrier.
- The noise
- The amount of travel involved, long flights and transfers.
- The food, the Chinese are renowned for eating things that we would see as strange.
- Too much of a culture shock, overwhelming.
Although perfectly understandable reasons to be apprehensive, personally I believe that to truly ‘experience the culture’ you must experience it ALL, the good, the slightly odd and the completely unfamiliar.
Finally I asked people how they imagine China to look in their mind, the answers I received seem to be one of two extremes, either the traditional rural vision of China, or the ultramodern opposite, bustling cities packed with people and skyscrapers. So I suppose you could say that yes, they are in fact succeeding in depicting themselves as a modern, exciting country, as most of the people I spoke to mentioned busy metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai. However, people also spoke about how the traditional, more historic areas appeal to them more, which makes me think, in their efforts to build China into this modern superpower, are they destroying too much of the very thing that makes them unique? By constructing more and more skyscrapers and highways at such an alarming rate, historical parts of towns and cities, for example, traditional hutongs and courtyard houses, are disappearing just as fast. I can’t help but think that in China’s desperate bid to catch up with western cities such as New York or London, they may be losing sight of the very thing that inspires people to experience China, the unique culture and history.