The Location of Cultural Authenticity: Identifying the Real and the Fake in Urban Guizhou

Article English OPEN
Kendall, P. (2017)
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1086/688851
  • Subject: UOW10

This article examines notions of cultural identity and authenticity and how these notions are articulated in the small city of Kaili in Guizhou Province, an ethnically diverse region. Despite its urban status, Kaili has been branded by the local government as a yuanshengtai tourist destination. This Chinese term literally translates as “original ecology” but is used in ordinary conversation to denote a cultural authenticity in which people exist in quiet harmony with nature. Promotional literature uses the term to tout the ethnic cultural practices that mainly occur in the villages of Kaili’s municipal periphery. In contrast, many local urban inhabitants—although amenable to the promotion of Kaili as a tourist destination—have rejected the notion that the city itself could be considered culturally authentic, and proudly declare themselves “fake” ethnic minorities, as against the “genuine” ethnic people of surrounding villages. These small-city inhabitants have also defined themselves against big-city visitors by attributing to the visitors a naïve fascination with cultural authenticity, while themselves remaining aloof from such practices. The cultural authenticity discourse in Kaili has thus facilitated a reordering of social and spatial hierarchies, as blasé small-city residents define themselves against both culturally authentic rural people and authenticity-seeking big-city tourists. In analyzing this, the article draws out the broader implications regarding PRC notions of ethnicity, cultural practices, heritage, and identity.
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    14. Socialism's own version of tourism consisted of visits to model villages such as Dazhai or Xiaojinzhuang.

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    18. Stevan Harrell, “China's Tangled Web of Heritage,” in Cultural Heritage Politics in China, ed. Tami Blumenfield and Helaine Silverman (New York: Springer, 2013), 287-88.

    19. On the ideal of preservation through renewal and reconstruction in East and Southeast Asia, see also Anna Karlström, Preserving Impermanence: The Creation of Heritage in Vientiane, Laos (Uppsala: Uppsala University, 2009); and Evans and Rowlands, “Reconceptualising Heritage in China.”

    27. Beth E. Notar, “Authenticity Anxiety and Counterfeit Confidence: Outsourcing Souvenirs, Changing Money, and Narrating Value in Reform-Era China,” Modern China 32, no. 1 (2006): 64-70.

    28. Jenny Chio, “The Appearance of the Rural in China's Tourism,” Provincial China 3, no. 1 (2011): 60-78.

    29. As a specifically rural form of authenticity, yuanshengtai does not encompass the urban authenticity found in other city brands, such as “old Beijing” culture or former colonial architecture.

    32. Bilik, “ 'Yuanshengtai' haishi 'huoshengtai'?”; Naiqun, “Bei 'yuanshengtai' wenhua.”

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