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Protecting villages a tourism trend

By Yang Jun ( China Daily )

Updated: 2016-10-19

Officials seek ways to maintain the culture and landscape of rural communities while also bringing them into the modern age

The balance between the conservation and development of traditional villages is key to boosting sustainable tourism in China, experts said at a summit held last week.

"Though developing tourism is a good way to bring benefits to traditional villages, we should preserve cultural elements at the same time," said Lawrence Clive Bloom, director of the Davos World Economic Forum and the previous chairman of United Nations Environment Program. He made the comments at the second annual Qiandongnan Traditional Village Summit held from Oct 12 to 14 in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture in Southwest China's Guizhou province.

He said local governments should respect the opinions of locals and optimize resources.

Han Feng, professor at the College of Architecture and Urban Planning of Tongji University, said the rural economy should not be replaced by tourism-related businesses.

Protecting villages a tourism trend

"Rural tourism comes from the rural landscape, and the rural landscape is based on the rural economy," Han said.

"If we develop tourism at the price of losing the rural economy, the profit can only be short term."

Giulio Verdini, senior lecturer in Planning at the University of Westminster, who mainly focuses on urban governance and sustainable local development in China, said the protection of traditional villages needs a diversified and innovative road to development based on its traditional strengths.

"If the locals, for example, are good at weaving brocade, why not try designing some different patterns and selling them through the internet?" he said.

"You must rely on what you have in this place, and make the most out of that."

As well as the proper use of local resources, experts and officials agree villagers play an important role in protecting traditional villages.

"The existence of villages derived from the existence of communities," said he. "I saw great possibilities in this place because communities are still here."

As for the maintenance of communities, he suggests setting up some activities that may give young villagers that left their hometown a sense of awareness of their own culture.

"We should admit it's unavoidable for the decreasing population of rural areas, but parts of them will still remember their cultural roots.

"So if we can set up some activities in which they can feel a sense of belonging to the place where they lived, they may be willing to come back," he said.

Party secretary of Qiandongnan Li Feiyue said that villagers' interests were the government's priority.

"We insist on people-oriented development to guarantee that villagers can gain maximum benefits from the conservation and development of their villages," said Li.

As the most densely populated prefecture for Miao and Dong ethnic groups in China, Qiandongnan Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture is known for its number of traditional villages, of which there are more than 3,000. Of these, 276 were enrolled in the List of China's Famous Traditional Villages, including Xijiang Miao Village and Zhaoxing Dong Village.

The Guizhou government hosted the summit and the Qiandongnan government organized it, with a total of 600 representatives from UNESCO, experts, officials, artists and tourism professionals attending the event.

"We hope to provide a platform for domestic and overseas experts to exchange ideas about the conservation and development of traditional villages," said Li.

He said Qiandongnan would make efforts to boost the industrial development of the villages and help the poor acquire wealth by the proper use of ecological and cultural resources, through the joint efforts of the government, enterprises, and local people.

After the summit, Qiandongnan will promote China's first traveling route that connects 10 representative villages of Miao and Dong ethnic groups and the first World Old Villages Summit will be held in Qiandongnan prefecture in 2017.

Chen Meiling contributed to this story.


 Protecting villages a tourism trend

Residents in Zhanli village, a gathering point for the Dong ethnic group in Guizhou province, are good at spinning silk and making clothes by hand.Zhang Qi / For China Daily

 Protecting villages a tourism trend

The art of making traditional costumes in Zhaoxing Dong village is a cultural heritage in Guizhou.Yang Jun / China Daily

(China Daily 10/19/2016 page22)

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