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Lijiang turning tourism into growth

By Ian Goodrum | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-21 09:18
Photo taken on Sep 8, 2017 is Lijiang, Southwest China's Yunnan province. [Photo/VCG]

As I looked up, scanning the imposing stone column with the red star on top-a memorial to Red Army soldiers who crossed the Jinsha River during the Long March-I wondered what those men would make of things now. The high-tech China of today would be practically unrecognizable to them, yet I can't help but think the new society they were fighting for is slowly but surely taking shape.

I've been invited to participate in a trip across the Yangtze River Economic Belt, to see the progress that's been made and learn more about plans for the future. Today marked our first stop in Lijiang, a city in northwestern Yunnan province. The Long March memorial was but one brief moment in today's whirlwind journey; we spent time gawking in amazement at scenic vistas and wandering the famed Old Town of Lijiang. Some 40 million people visit this ancient city every year, where history meets modernity in impressive fashion. It's an eye-popping statistic that presents one possible solution to a difficult problem-development.

Cities like Lijiang face a tricky calculus: how to raise living standards and catch up to their growing neighbors without damaging their lush green landscapes. Heavy industry would decimate the environment, and the mountainous terrain makes large-scale agriculture unworkable. Tourism presents a unique opportunity. By building up attractions like the Old Town, underdeveloped regions can experience growth while ensuring world-renowned ecosystems stay pristine.

This also enshrines the area's manifold cultural palette. Old Town is now host to over a dozen educational experience centers, where visitors can get a glimpse of the many ways of life that converge here. Yunnan and Lijiang are home to a large array of ethnic groups, and I was able to get a firsthand look at the Dongba script of the Naxi people. This hieroglyph-like language can be seen on every sign in the Old Town, and safeguarding the writing style is a matter of policy, not whimsy. The integrity of these cultures is taken seriously, and making a public effort to protect and present them can raise both incomes and awareness.

Lijiang's responses to the development question demonstrate a practical attitude and a willingness to adapt. Rather than adhering to a one-size-fits-all strategy, the city is carefully studying its strengths and applying them to benefit the entire community. Everywhere you look in Lijiang, there's something that will take your breath away-yet the real wonder might be the transformation of that feeling into better lives for its people.

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