China’s ethnic theme parks

News items about minority issues in China typically focus on the often contentious relationship between the authorities and  members of China’s 56 recognized ethnic groups. But there’s another dynmaic of race relations in China: what the majority Han population think of these minority groups. In today’s New York Times, Edward Wong reports on the growing ...

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Getty Images
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News items about minority issues in China typically focus on the often contentious relationship between the authorities and  members of China's 56 recognized ethnic groups. But there's another dynmaic of race relations in China: what the majority Han population think of these minority groups.

In today's New York Times, Edward Wong reports on the growing number of ethnic theme parks in China, attracting foreign and Han Chinese tourists alike:

"The Dai [minority theme] park, with its wooden stilt homes, groomed palm trees and elephant statues, is part of an increasingly popular form of entertainment in China — the ethnic theme playground, where middle-class Han come to experience what they consider the most exotic elements of their vast nation. There is no comprehensive count of these Disneyland-like parks, but people in the industry say the number is growing, as are visitors."

News items about minority issues in China typically focus on the often contentious relationship between the authorities and  members of China’s 56 recognized ethnic groups. But there’s another dynmaic of race relations in China: what the majority Han population think of these minority groups.

In today’s New York Times, Edward Wong reports on the growing number of ethnic theme parks in China, attracting foreign and Han Chinese tourists alike:

"The Dai [minority theme] park, with its wooden stilt homes, groomed palm trees and elephant statues, is part of an increasingly popular form of entertainment in China — the ethnic theme playground, where middle-class Han come to experience what they consider the most exotic elements of their vast nation. There is no comprehensive count of these Disneyland-like parks, but people in the industry say the number is growing, as are visitors."

Most often, the attitudes of Han Chinese toward minority groups such as the Dai are characterized by a mix of curiosity, condescension, and simple lack of knowledge. The indigenous peoples and customs of West China seem nearly as exotic to Beijingers as to Bostonians.

Wong compares the wealthy Han tourists drawn to an annual festival celebrated by the Dai people to America’s Mardi Gras. But I think a better comparison might be 19th century Europeans fascinated by (and obviously woefully ignorant about) the peoples they saw as the "noble savages" of the Americas.

Christina Larson is an award-winning foreign correspondent and science journalist based in Beijing, and a former Foreign Policy editor. She has reported from nearly a dozen countries in Asia. Her features have appeared in the New York Times, Wired, Science, Scientific American, the Atlantic, and other publications. In 2016, she won the Overseas Press Club of America’s Morton Frank Award for international magazine writing. Twitter: @larsonchristina
Tag: China

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