An analysis of the Dongba arts and culture in the context of tourism

Xie, Zheng (2009) An analysis of the Dongba arts and culture in the context of tourism. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


The study examines the critical link between Lijiang’s tourism development and the Naxi dongba culture. The link between tourism and culture is demonstrated by the effects of modernity and globalisation, resulting in the loss of traditional social orders and the commodification of culture (Giddens, 1990). However, ethnic culture and identity are both flexible to these external changes (Cohen, 1988; Harrison, 2001a; Hitchcock, 2000a). This dissertation examines the role of individuals and groups within a specific tourism destination in China in adapting and responding to both government policy and tourism development in the region. The key research methodological feature is an ethnographic approach, constituting a number of qualitative research techniques, i.e. in-depth interview and participant observation, intertwined in each other in a seven-month-long fieldstudy in Lijiang from September 2007 to April 2008. The findings focus in particular on the dongba culture as affected by the development of tourism. This traditional religious practice has been accepted by the wider Naxi ethnic group as one of their most valuable cultural properties and an identical part of their ethnic identity. Lijiang’s tourism has contributed remarkably to the modification of the local urban/rural dichotomy. The expansion of tourism wealth is not entirely distributed according to the government’s arrangements, but rather is greatly influenced by the very nature of the tourism industry itself. Whilst the government’s main objectives focus on the need for economic regeneration of the area more generally, the primary concern of those who are seeking to maintain dongba culture is to reinforce and renew the dynamic communication between the Naxi and their mountain rural community. In this regard, the contribution of tourism is controversial and double-edged. On the one hand, the involvement of tourism weakens this traditional bond by employing many dongba in urban areas, leaving their rural communities unattended. On the other hand, the impaired connection awakens the affected communities, leading them consciously to protect their religious practices in the face of the impact of tourism and commodification. Moreover, both the local government and the Naxi farmers use tourism as a major force to define the content of the dongba culture divergently. The government sanitises the dongba culture as an academic activity practised only in museums or institutes, ignoring the religious feature of the practice. In contrast, the farmers emphasise the very religious and ritual character of cultural practices as evidence of the authenticity of that culture. They embrace this religious practice as their most powerful ethnic identity in the context and in the face of tourism. This has had an effect on Naxi ethnic identity within the urban areas as well, leading to a revaluing and revitalising of Naxi tradition and culture.

851188.pdf - Published Version

Download (124MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Downloads each year

View Item View Item