In the Ethnographic Film, Peasant, Family Happiness by Jenny Chio, Chio looks at two villages that are “ethnic tourism” destinations in Contemporary China. These villages stimulate the local economy by creating tourist attractions for both urban Chinese and foreigners based on ethnic and regional culture. Food often participates as a main attraction.
I was first introduced to the term “Nong Jia Le” when our group visited the aquaculture cooperative in Qingpu almost 3 weeks ago. The term is roughly comparable to eco-tourism. After touring the grounds, we went to an extravagant building complex that served large travelling groups local cuisines. We spent over 2 hours chatting with some employees of the cooperative and trying local dishes. As we were leaving I leaned over to Dr. Fuji and asked what the purpose of this space was. He said it was to bring money into the rural countryside and show off ethnic differences of this province in China.
I made a note on the concept of Nong Jia Le and let it pass. However, yesterday when the group visited Mudu, a water town, I couldn’t help but think about tourism again. As we were walking the streets, construction crews were working on the streets trying to make the village more attractive for tourists. Food and tourism seem to go hand in hand in rural areas of China. In Mudu we ate at a similar restaurant, but the scale was not as large as the compound we ate at in Qingpu.
While Mudu Village was not as focused on eco-tourism, there was still emphasis on utilizing the assets of the village. In fact, the town had various shops where patrons can have photos taken with them wearing traditional Chinese dress next to the river that runs through the center of town. Our group couldn’t resist and we took part in the festivities.
Nonetheless, one thing I am learning throughout my time in China, is that tourism plays a big role in local economies, whether the tourist attraction is a regional cuisine, farming practice or geographic feature that makes for good photos.