Unit 3: Miao Performance at Shilong -- Analyzing the Tourist Experience

Artist: The residents of Shilong and Metang

Media: Textiles, silverwork, clothing, song, dance, and foodways

Read/View: http://chinavine.org/subject/miaoperformanceatshilong/

Overview of Unit: In order raise the standard of living for residents of Shilong and Metang in the mountainous province of Guizhou, the Chinese government rebuilt the villages so that busloads of tourists could be easily received. Visitors now come from both inside and outside the country. The Miao living in these villages recognize that tourists are good for the town’s economic development and so they are enthusiastically welcomed. Visitors come to learn about Miao culture and purchase traditional works of art. Consequently, many of the items that were originally made for the villagers’ own use, are now made for tourists.

Philosophy/Folklore: Cultural tourism is a huge business around the world. In numerous traditional communities, tourism gives artists ways to make money through their artistic endeavors. This income may enable them to stay in their communities and continue much valued artistic practices. At the same time, not all the changes that take place when opening one’s community to visitors are positive. When cities, towns, and villages are expanded, rebuilt, and restructured to incorporate tourists, cultural activities that used to center in neighborhoods and towns are refocused to accommodate outsiders. Artists, dancers, musicians, and festival planners begin to think about their traditional activities in more self-conscious ways. Items that were once used in everyday life or community events become objects to display, make, and sell to tourists, changing their meanings and focus. Some artworks become quickly made in order to meet the demand, thereby lowering the artistic quality. Objects may also be created to attract the aesthetic preferences of the consumer. Dances might be shortened and performed outside the correct calendar date and specialized ritual dress might be worn more often, thereby diminishing its specialness. While cultural tourism helps preserve cultures, in many ways, it can also destroy them. The goal is to find ways to invite people into villages, towns, and cities so that people from different cultures can positively learn from each other without doing damage to the cultural health of the place. Finding this kind of balance in cultural tourism is not an easy task.

Lesson 1: Coming to and Moving through the Villages

Visitors to foreign places can be accommodated in varying ways. This lesson focuses on the needs and experiences of visitors to Shilong and Metang.

Lesson 2: Investigating Tourist Experiences from the Inside

Tourism affects both visitors to communities and the people who live there. This lesson analyzes the tourist experience from the host’s community perspective.

Lesson 3: Considering the Cultural Context of Artwork

Museum workers make important decisions about their art purchases and the ways in which these works are displayed. This lesson explores issues revolving around what and how a traditional work is presented and viewed by visitors to museums.