Jiaju, a remote Tibetan village confronted with tourism

This picture was taken at the entrance of the Tibetan village Jiaju, located near Danba in the mountainous region of western Sichuan. A seeing spot has been set up with a glass railing so that visitors could admire, safely, the amazing view of the Tibetan village from above. The woman in the picture, dressed in a traditional Jiarong style, came two minutes after I, and three other Chinese visitors in their SUV, arrived. She gave a tight smile and started to pose, to the joy of some, and the unease of others…

Why all this orchestration in this remote and peaceful village?

In 2005, Jiaju was selected as the most beautiful village in China by the Chinese National Geographic Magazine.

A journalist wrote:

The village of Jiaju has no doubt benefited as a result of tourism – there are few signs of poverty and many villagers own new cars and sports utility vehicles. But tourism has also impacted the surrounding environment and changed the fabric of the village. Indeed, Jiaju embodies many of the issues China’s minority regions face as the country’s internal tourism industry grows.

He Ming, the director of Yunnan University’s Research Centre of Ethnic Minorities in China’s South-west Frontier, says increased tourism helps foster development of minority regions and increases local incomes. For Han tourists, the experience of visiting minority regions provides a valuable cultural exchange that promotes goodwill between China’s different ethnic groups.

But He says that governments at the federal and local level must take steps to protect the rights and interests of the minority cultures, rather than exploiting them to accommodate Han tourists.(( Mitch Moxley, Inter Press Service, 2010 ))

Thus, the local government’s choices will shape Jiaju’s future. However, it will also depend on the ability of the communities to make their own choices: to develop the image of the “most beautiful village of China” and spread it over the world, or to keep a slice of authenticity by preserving their local identity, practices and architecture from mass tourism and exploitation. Furthermore, if they decide to preserve the authenticity of this place, the next step is to define a way to proceed. Should the UNESCO intervene and impose its Western rules in terms of heritage conservation? Or should the local government create an new system, which combines some Western practices in terms of heritage conservation with new Chinese ones?

 

 


Oriane Pillet

Intern at the CNRS, UrbaChina project. M.A. in urban local development (IEDES, Paris); M.A. in international development studies (Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris - Utrecht University); B.A. in geography and law (Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris).

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