Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Paper on Parade: Tourism as a territorial strategy: the case of China and Taiwan

A roadside vendor in Miaoli looks to capture some tourist dollars.

Time for another installment of this blog's regularly irregular Paper on Parade. Ian Rowen, the anthropologist sociologist geographer who was inside the Legislative Yuan during the Sunflower Movement occupation of that body, has written a very interesting article for the Annals of Tourism Research entitled Tourism as a territorial strategy: the case of China and Taiwan (Annals of Tourism Research. Volume 46, May 2014, Pages 62–74)(he's put it online)(link to publication).

Rowen opens the paper in fine anthropological style, beginning with Chinese blogger and celebrity Han Han and his trip to Taiwan, where he met a generous taxi driver:
Han’s taxi driver was not just a taxi driver—in the retelling, the cabbie came to represent of the supposed generous spirit of all Taiwanese people. Except, in Han’s reading, the driver’s generosity was not so much Taiwanese as it was Chinese, free of the corrupting influence of the CCP. Han therefore suggests he was not helped by a Taiwanese as much as he was by a more authentic Chinese subject. Taiwan’s history as a Japanese colony and US protectorate, as well as its many other specificities and contingencies are elided in this account.
He then goes on to review the way tourism is nested within important cross-strait currents -- the PRC's desire to annex Taiwan, the desire of the locals not to be annexed, the ongoing and constantly mutating discussion on Chineseness and resistance to such labels, and so on. He observes:
Past work suggests that the strategic deployment of tourism is part of China’s foreign policy apparatus (Arlt, 2006; Richter, 1983). Nyíri (2006) has argued that PRC state agents use tourism and tourist sites to articulate hegemonic claims about cultural identity and state authority, even beyond China’s borders. If this is true, then tourism to Taiwan should be no exception. Yet, it remains to be seen exactly how tourism may be serving the PRC’s claims to sovereignty over Taiwan, or possibly producing unintended effects of alienation. Though mediated by state and market forces, the narratives of tourists and toured are taking on political meanings and trajectories of their own, potentially reconfiguring the modes in which Taiwanese and PRC subjects recognize and engage with each other.
"Unintended effects of alienation." LOL. I've always supported PRC tourism here since I knew it would help distance Chinese from Taiwanese even further. I've had many encounters with Chinese tourists here and it is not difficult to get them to proclaim, at some point in the conversation, that Taiwanese are Chinese and Taiwan is part of China: "We are all Chinese!" a comment guaranteed to peeve locals.

Rowen moves on to offer the theoretical basis for his writing, arguing that the phenomenon of Chinese tourism in the annexation context may be understood using the rubric of state territorialization, the processes by which the state lays claim to particular places. Next he lays out the methodology, which consisted of him traveling around with group tours. What a kick that must have been!

As an avid cyclist I've had hundreds of "where should I go?" conversations with people and invariably, one hears "You should avoid such and such a place because Chinese tourists go there." I often make that point about the sump for Chinese tourist dollars that is Sun Moon Lake. Rowen observes that this is common among Taiwanese:
On the other hand, ordinary Taiwanese suggest that they don’t want to go to sites popular with PRC tourists, because they don't want to feel like they are “in China”. This leads to the second point: The more PRC group tourists engage with Taiwanese, the more they express a sense of cultural affinity, admiration, and crucially, identification with them as fellow Chinese nationals. Yet, the more Taiwanese engage with PRC group tourists, the more culturally, socially and politically alienated Taiwanese feel from China and PRC nationals. Such a contradiction between the delight of guests and the distaste of hosts is certainly not unique to cross-Strait tourism. What makes this case remarkable is that PRC group tourists, almost invariably believing that Taiwan is a part of China, identify with Taiwanese hosts as fellow (ethno)national subjects that should rightfully be under the sovereign jurisdiction of the PRC, even if these tourists acknowledge the existence of Taiwan’s different state administration. Therefore, the push and pull of this encounter is of consequence for the territorial socialization of tourists and the toured, as well as for the trajectory of cross-Strait diplomatic engagement, especially given Taiwan’s democratic political system.
This Chineseness of places that Chinese visit is in fact perceived by PRC tourists, according to Rowen:
The influx of PRC tourists has dampened the Taiwanese desire to visit Sun Moon Lake. “It’s pretty but I don’t go there anymore. If I wanted to feel like I’m in China, I’d just go to China,” said a Taipei colleague. His friends nodded in agreement. But Sun Moon Lake is not just viewed by Taiwanese as a “Chinese” space—PRC tourists themselves reported feeling as if they were still in China. Although this effect is not limited to Sun Moon Lake...
Rowen also reports that Chinese view Taiwan as more civilized place, a "China" unspoiled by the Cultural Revolution and Communism, but never connect any of Taiwan's more "civilized" behaviors to the years of Japanese colonialism. The idea that Taiwan better preserves "Chinese" culture is is a key trope of pro-China propaganda, and ignoring or downplaying the pervasive Japanese influence on Taiwan is an inevitable result of this trope.

This paper offers a few moments of scary humor. For example, anyone who goes to PRC tourist sites knows that there will be Falungong propaganda hanging about -- indeed I now interpret the presence of an FLG sign as a signal that a place is visited by Chinese tourists. Rowen notes:
In an interview, a Falun Gong activist and retired professor, mentioned that a PRC tourist, perhaps confused about what country he was in, attempted to call the local police to report illegal, anti-government activity. The police took no action.
But overall, Rowen keeps returning to his major theme, which is that PRC assertions of control over Taiwan via tourism are backfiring because the PRC tourists are alienating the Taiwanese. This is an inevitable result of the fact that tourists are a picked group, probably more nationalist than the PRC population at large. It will be interesting to see how the individual tourists are perceived and how they see Taiwan. Hopefully Rowen has another excellent paper on that in the future!
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Unknown said...

Hi Michael, thanks so much for your excellent review!

A few quick replies:

1. You're right to highlight the line about "unintended effect of alienation". Yes, unintended for whom, exactly? And I'm curious, what kind of effects of 'alienation' or identification is Chinese tourism producing for you here, apart from the obvious?

2. Yes, more research will be forthcoming on independent tourists, once I find some time away from the Sunflower proliferation. Would be great to get your comments on a draft when it's ready.

3. As meaningless as social science divisions may seem, my graduate training has been in Geography, not Anthropology (even if this piece in the ethnographic tradition, and owes a debt to the latter discipline). So, I'm probably better called a 'geographer'. And, here in Taiwan at Academia Sinica, I'm affiliated at the Institute of Sociology. Does this make me a sociologist too? Who knows. I wish it didn't matter.

4. I've posted the paper to my personal page on academia.edu, so unless Annals publisher Elsevier takes it down, this link is better than the Google Drive one in your post. Please replace if it's convenient for you: https://www.academia.edu/6802148/Tourism_as_a_territorial_strategy_The_case_of_China_and_Taiwan

Thanks again for the review!


Scott said...

This is a great article, and a good summary by Michael. It is certainly correct that the article demolishes the core assumption behind much previous research and political speechifying on this topic, namely that PRC-to-Taiwan tourism will proceed along a, "normative trajectory of reconciliation or greater mutual understanding" (a prospect laughable to most TWese or those who have observed PRC tour groups here and spoken to TWese about them).

However, there is one crucial aspect of the article which you touched upon briefly that I think could have stressed a little more. That is how the PRC group tour 'experience' is structured in such a way that, "commission-based group tour shopping, previously uncommon in Taiwan, has become the dominant model, and ... this along with the territorial ideology of ‘‘One China’’ is producing an effect of PRC stateness for PRC tourists." As the paper demonstrates, the actual genre of hop-on hop-off tourism, with minimal local contact, itself occludes differences between Taiwan and the PRC such that they are rendered near invisible to PRC visitors. (As such, the tour experience not only panders to PRC tourists' existing 'One China' preconceptions, but counter-intuitively reinforces them.) It is not simply the number of PRC tourists at Sun Moon Lake that lead to, "PRC tourists themselves... feeling as if they were still in China," but also the style in which they encounter that place.

As such, local (and Hong Kong) tourism operators are also partly to blame for remaking these spaces as 'Chinese'. Perhaps most disturbing is how, as Ian writes, "the Taiwanese travel industry is collaborating in the touristic performance of Taiwan as a part of China," by self-policing the language of tour guides (e.g. adopting PRC terminology such as 'neidi' 內地) and warning PRC clients to avoid Falun Gong demonstrators. This might provide some indication of the direction things could go in other industries should the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement pass in its current form.

One other quick comment re: independent PRC tourists. My own limited experience is that individual travellers gain a much deeper appreciation of Taiwan's distinct merits, and of the cultural and historical differences obscured by 'One China' ideology. Just last week a Taiwanese friend told me how a PRC acquaintance visiting Tainan was so taken up by the post-Sunflower atmosphere that he started chanting Taiwan Independence slogans in the middle of the BBQ restaurant where they were having dinner. I've also encountered occassional, less public, expressions of sympathy for Taiwanese self-determination from independent PRC visitors.

Mike Fagan said...

Is there anything in that paper that isn't a jargoned-up statement of the bleedin' obvious? We all know what Chinese tourists are like, so this paper tells us nothing we didn't already know.

Ji Xiang said...

I am interested in the idea that the claim that Taiwan has preserved a "purer" Chinese culture is actually pro-China propaganda.

Living in the Mainland, I had always imagined that it was the Taiwanese themselves of all stripes who like to make this claim. Apparently I was wrong.