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'Hey, here we are'

By Luo Weiteng | HK EDITION | Updated: 2021-02-07 13:40
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Giant panda cubs play at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Southwest China's Sichuan province, Feb 4, 2021. Nine giant panda cubs born in 2020 are pictured to send their best wishes for the New Year of the Ox. [Photo by He Haiyang/For]

Cultural tourism

The central government published a first-batch list of top-15 model cities and 60 pilot cities for cultural tourism in December.

Chengdu, which made the list of model cities, has long been known for its pioneering efforts on the cultural tourism front. The capital city of Sichuan province looks to launch the country's first hanfu street during the Chinese New Year, riding a nationwide resurgence of interest in the ancient clothing of China's Han ethnic group as the country's young people take pride in their traditional culture.

To be sure, Chengdu has a fairly strong atmosphere of hanfu and is home to the nation's first brick-and-mortar hanfu store. By the end of 2019, the city housed more than 100 offline hanfu shops, leading the pack in terms of the sheer number of hanfu outlets as well as the increase in the number of hanfu stores in a single year.

As Chengdu earns its reputation as a magnet for hanfu lovers and merchants along with other cities such as Beijing and Xi'an, the launch of a landmark hanfu street is just an act of following the natural course and may set a vivid example of cultural tourism for its counterparts to follow.

With the question of how to carve out a path for cultural tourism remaining open-ended — a matter of the right crop for the right land — there will inevitably be degrees of authenticity to the attractions that will appear as entrepreneurs see opportunities in the vast sea of potential.

Last year, a local property developer in Foshan, Guangdong province, built a 100-meter Japanese-themed shopping street.

Though the little-known street was merely a promotional stunt of a merchant and was reported to be temporarily closed due to copyright complaints, it is one of the few niche, human-made tourist attractions across the country, catering to some residents who are travel-starved or cannot afford to travel abroad by allowing them to pretend to be on vacation overseas.

"You may argue that tourist attractions of this kind do offer a different idea or a new route to cultural tourism, as the pandemic and travel restrictions indeed offer sort of business opportunities," noted Zeng Tian, a blogger at Chinese travel review website Mafengwo. "But I prefer to regard them as a pure commercial act, aiming to attract some internet celebrities to take nice photos. This doesn't have much to do with cultural tourism."

After all, Foshan, listed as one of the 60 pilot cities for cultural tourism, could hardly make the street its calling card on the long, bumpy journey to polish its brand as a tourist mecca, Zeng added.

As the dizzying growth of the world's second-largest economy has given birth to a new breed of "super consumers" who have now gone beyond mimicking the patterns of Western shoppers to being the trendsetters and innovators, domestic tourism players should equally step up the pace or go the extra mile, Zeng said.

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