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Jenny T. Chio, A Landscape of Travel: The Work of Tourism in Rural Ethnic China. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014. 304 pp.

inline graphicIn A Landscape of Travel: The Work of Tourism in Rural Ethnic China, Jenny Chio skillfully unpacks the complexities of ethnic-tourism development in rural China. Based on substantial ethnographic fieldwork in Ping’an (a Zhuang village in Guangxi) and Upper Jidao (a Miao village in Guizhou), she lays bare the regimes of mobility and visuality that turn one person’s leisure into another person’s labor. Situating her research within the “hosts and guests” framework (Smith 1989), Chio criticizes the overemphasis on tourists in tourism studies. Instead, her work focuses on the residents of village destinations. More precisely, she disentangles the discourses and practices of those who “do the work” of tourism, thereby blurring the fine line between “hosts” and the often-neglected intermediary category of tourism service providers.

In the preface and introduction to the book, Chio gives readers more information about the theoretical and methodological tools that she uses. Her main analytical focus on “doing tourism” examines a landscape of travel, in which “the act and the imagination of travel become key nodes through which tourists, migrants, ethnic minorities, mainstream majorities, rural villagers, and urban dwellers negotiate and make sense of current social, economic, and political conditions” (xvii). As “a conceptual framework for tracing social relations,” this landscape of travel “illuminates the complex networks of ambitions, expectations, and opportunities that are shaping transformations” (14). Such an approach allows Chio to zoom in on two fundamental social processes that shape the “work” of tourism, namely human mobility (particularly tourism and migration) and visuality (the social fact of vision). [End Page 835]

Chapter 1 sketches the larger context of Chio’s case studies. It describes the history of tourism and the current conditions in both villages, and discusses broader issues of ethnic identity and visual representations of ethnicity in China. This reveals the lasting importance of imaginaries of “difference,” a point that has also been made by other anthropologists of tourism (e.g., Salazar and Graburn 2014). The construction of ethnic minorities in China involves a continuous “process of negotiation between national, mainstream, local, and individual imaginations and aspirations” (34). The way this plays out in the development of tourism in both field sites, however, is slightly dissimilar. Whereas in Ping’an the beautiful views of the Longsheng rice terraces are the primary tourist focus, Upper Jidao was developed from the very beginning as an ethnic tourism destination.

In the second chapter, Chio discusses “tourism as development,” or the tight connection between rural household-based tourism enterprises (nong jia le, or “family business happiness”) and general Chinese policies for rural development (particularly the campaign to build a New Socialist Countryside). Both formed part of “an effort to increase rural incomes and also to raise the suzhi [quality] of ethnic minorities by modernizing them” (98). Moreover, both aimed at curbing rural-to-urban migration and encouraging villagers to stay, or return, home. After all, domestic migrant workers in China continue to be regarded by many as “low quality” (92). By discussing tourism in the larger frame of national development policies (to keep the rural population “in place”), Chio nicely illustrates here how “tourism in China was bound tightly with explicit attempts to construct a new Chinese countryside, a new Chinese tourist, and a new rural Chinese subject” (97).

Chapter 3 focuses on mobility, which Chio defines as “both the ability to travel and…all of the attendant desires and notions of agency associated with this capacity to envision travel as a socially significant element of one’s subjectivity and life experiences” (102). Through rich ethnographic description, we learn how rural migrants see and understand tourism and development in their villages. The chapter’s title, “Leave the Fields Without Leaving the Countryside,” refers to a Chinese slogan that promotes the idea of (rural) modernity without mobility. In other words, rural tourism development in China is based on the binary assumption of mobile urban tourists versus immobile rural villagers. Chio’s “orders of mobility” reveal “particular desires, inequalities, and power relations” [End...

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