AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 244

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Session 244: Studying Ping’an Village: Multi-Disciplinary Methods, Concepts, and Approaches to Ethnicity and Tourism in Rural China

Organizer: Jenny Chio, Emory University, USA

Chair: Jessica Anderson Turner, Virginia Intermont College, USA

Discussant: Katherine Kaup, Furman University, USA

What happens when many scholars study the same place? This innovative panel brings together researchers who have conducted fieldwork in one Chinese village: Ping’an, a popular tourism village in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. As a rural, ethnic tourism destination, Ping’an village is the literal and symbolic intersection of the rural and the urban, the foreign and the domestic, as well as the ethnic and the mainstream in China today. Therefore, multiple disciplinary perspectives are integral to understanding social transformation and cultural change in this place. Presentations and commentary draw upon our backgrounds in anthropology, sociology, ethnomusicology, folklore, political science, and tourism studies. Together, we will raise questions and reflections on research methodologies, disciplinary “blinders,” and challenges in fieldwork based on our experiences in Ping’an and Guangxi more broadly. Our collective goal is to utilize this unique opportunity to share research between Chinese and American-trained scholars working in Ping’an, and to explore new directions in multi-disciplinary, or interdisciplinary, research in Asian studies. With an emphasis on generating discussion between panelists and audience members, we focus on exploring multiple methods, concepts, and approaches. Particular attention will be paid to audio-visual recording as a research strategy. Panelists will give ten-minute papers addressing their methodological insights and key findings, followed by comments from the discussant. Ample time will be allotted for dialogue with the audience. A website on Ping’an and the Zhuang will be created prior to the meeting to introduce the village and foster more interactive and engaged conversation during the panel session.

The People in the Picture: Video as Analysis in Ethnographic Fieldwork
Jenny Chio, Emory University, USA

This paper explores how video recording as a research method enhanced the process of ethnographic fieldwork on tourism and social change in the village of Ping’an. Video-recording and photography became integral to my approach towards unpacking the fractious relationship between the land and the people involved in tourism in Ping’an precisely because this industry relies so heavily on the visual appearance of the village and its terraced fields. Indeed, making the village and the terraces look good was the key concern for residents, local government officials, and the investment company who managed the scenic region, but over the course of my ethnographic research in Ping’an, it was repeatedly emphasized to me that the most frequently overlooked aspect tourism development in the region was, in fact, the people whose labor built, used, and maintained the land that was now so popular with tourists. At the same time, it was widely acknowledged that tourism had improved the overall livelihoods of all Ping’an residents, and residents could no longer imagine a future without tourism. A local guide explained in no uncertain terms, therefore, that the best picture of the terraces would be one with a person in it – to visually evidence the labor, history, and community that had made this unique landscape possible. My ethnographic analysis thus came to rely on video and image-making processes in order to “keep” the people in the picture, or in other words to understand the politics of appearances at work in the village’s tourism industry today.

Ethnographer as Distributor: Using Performance (and Ethnography) for Political and Economic Agency at a Chinese Tourist Site
Jessica Anderson Turner, Virginia Intermont College, USA

In Ping’an village in northern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, musical performances figure prominently in the promotion of cultural and scenic resources for preservation efforts and for tourism development and become stylized media versions of the discourses on ethnicity and economic development. Although such performances draw on dominant discourses and shared repertoires, they also become spaces for individual entrepreneurship and agency. As an ethnographer recording these tourist performances, I was a participant observer in numerous performances, collected audio and visual recordings, and conducted feedback interviews with participants, resulting in an analysis that is a product of my particular training as an ethnomusicologist. I observed music as it was used as a means of gaining agency for political and economic action and I came to view performers as “agents of display” (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998) who have ideological, rhetorical, and creative control over what cultural forms and social ideas are performed. Increasingly during the course of my fieldwork, improvised song texts (usually in the context of singing toasting songs with tourists) spoke of unkempt terraces, inadequate water supplies, and their views toward outsiders opening tourism businesses in Ping’an. Additionally, my role as a recorder of these commentative performances was progressively seen by performers as one of a producer and distributor of their work, one of the means to their agency. This paper discusses my methodology in studying performance in Ping’an and the effects that ethnography has on local discourses, in this case the construction of a musical discourse on economic development.

Impacts of Tourism on Folk Traditions in Ping’an Village
Gan Li Xu, Guangxi Normal University, China

The impacts of tourism should take the locals’ perspective into account. Through a household survey of the population and occupations in Ping’an village, I analyzed the impacts of the different levels of participation in tourism on family life. Furthermore, through comparisons of Ping’an and other adjacent villages, and by tracking the process of cultural change over time, I explored the internal relations between tourism development and folk cultural heritage. My conclusion is that the impact of tourism is not unidirectional: there are differences in different parts of culture, different periods of tourism development, and different groups of people (different family and ages). My perspective and focus is in folklore and sociology. Folk tourism is something that develops folk culture into tourism industry, that is to say, the thing which should be for self–enjoyment has become the thing that can bring economic benefits. In such processes, traditional ways of life become a cultural landscape for human consumption. Methodologically, I primarily investigated local customs and paid less attention to travelers. Thus, I also have some experience with failure: I wasn’t able to interview many travelers, most of whom were not willing to cooperate. How did travelers feel about Ping’an and subsequently affect cultural changes? I could not find a direct connection between them. Additionally, some villagers mistook me for a government worker or a journalist because they hoped I could help them resolve the unfair distribution of income and other difficulties with the shortage of work in the village.

An Anthropological Study on the Relationship among the Hosts in Ethnic Tourism Development
Zhong Jun Wu, Independent Scholar, China

Not only does the relationship among the tourism hosts and related stakeholders have a direct influence on the sustainable tourism development of a destination, but it is also closely related to the harmonious development of the host society itself. In this paper, the author takes Ping’an Zhuang village of the Longji Terraced Field Scenic Area as a case study based on fieldwork conducted in the village itself. Using the concept of tourism stakeholders within an ethnic minority village, the “hosts” and “guests” theory from the anthropology of tourism, and participatory management theory, the author presents a thorough analysis of the interests and relationships among various tourism stakeholders of Ping’an village. Based on this analysis, the author draws a basic map of hosts and related stakeholders. Moreover, the author proposes a shareholding participation management mode between tourism hosts and other related stakeholders. Ethnic tourism can develop sustainably, and ethnic cultural heritage can be protected and passed down only if the interests of local people within the tourism village are guaranteed.