The development and growth of China’s tourism industry over the past couple of decades has been nothing short of incredible. Most of the popular tourist attractions now visited by throngs of foreign tour groups, and by millions of Chinese tourists, were until only twenty years ago secluded and idyllic backpacker destinations.
A large portion of China is mountainous with various mountain ranges including the Tien Shan, the Kunlun chain, and the Trans-Himalaya. China contains three great river systems: the Yellow River (Huang He); the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang), and the Pearl River. China shares a border with 16 neighbours and has the largest population in the world; as of 2014 the Chinese population was 1.35 billion people. China’s massive landmass extends 9,326,411 sq km and the population density in the cities is astounding. Travelling through small cities with over 1 million people can be a little hard to fathom at first. Be sure to set your sights further than simply the major cities of Shanghai, Bejing and Hong Kong.
The capital Beijing has an array of tourist attraction – most tours to China start in Beijing before moving on to other places. In Beijing, the ‘must see’ attractions are the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, the Lama and Confucius temples, the Summer Palace, the Ming tombs and the Great Wall, accessible in three places within easy reach of Beijing. Recently added sites include the area of the Olympic Green, with such modern landmarks as the Bird’s Nest Stadium and the Water Cube.
Outside Beijing, Xian in Shaanxi Province is famous for its stunning army of terracotta soldiers buried in the tombs of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi from 200BC. Guilin is known for its much-painted landscape of strange rock formations shooting out of the valley floor and the calm appeal of the Li River, as well as the growing popularity of mountain biking and rock climbing. Yunnan Province is possibly the most diverse province, its varied climate ranging from snow-covered mountains in the north to tropical rainforests in the south, and a large number of minority ethnic groups living in traditionally built villages.
Shanghai is China’s most modern and fast-moving city. Visiting this ‘Paris of the East’ is a chance to see how far China has come in its drive for modernization. The Chinese are proud of their accomplishments in this city and routinely put it on tourist itineraries. The architectural variety of the Shanghai high-rise skyline is a view to behold.
In 2014, there were 128.5 million international tourists arrivals to China. There is no agreed definition of ecotourism in China and this label is applied to many attractions and tours that simply have an element of the natural world in them. Hiking is popular in China, and many nature reserves have organized paved hiking routes. In fact, sometimes all paths are paved with stones and concrete, with steps built into the mountain for easier climbing. This evolved from the demand of Buddhist pilgrims climbing up sacred mountains in China.
China is full of history; but sadly much has been destroyed over time and through the zeal of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. However, there are still 31 sites in China on the UNESCO World Heritage List and tourism has an important role to play in protecting these places. If managed badly, it will inevitably destroy the sites it relies on; but if managed well, it will provide sustainable finance for the continued maintenance of these unique sites. When visiting China, be aware that there is a stringent Internet censorship policy in place – with more than sixty internet regulations introduced by the government of China.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Displacement of Local Peoples:
Tourism development has caused many communities to be forcibly displaced. Indigenous groups, people living in informal settlements, or people who lack official title deeds to their lands are particularly vulnerable to displacement or loss of access to lands and waters essential for their livelihoods. This often happens with little or no warning, compensation or alternative provision.
Governments and private companies have forced many tribal peoples from their ancestral lands to make way for national parks and so called ‘eco-tourism’. Fishing communities are removed from their coastal villages and blocked from accessing the sea as hotels are built and beaches are privatised, destroying livelihoods and traditional ways of life. Informal settlements are bulldozed under beautification projects in the lead up to major international sporting events.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Land displacement:
Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people can be a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography: https://tourismconcern.wpengine.com/ethical-photography/
Cultural Loss and Indigenous Tourism:
As we have extended the scope of our holidays into remote places, we now see ‘remote people’ as part of our holiday landscape. Our interest in other people’s cultures is not always sensitive. What are the implications, for example, of tourists viewing, filming & photographing tribal peoples who now demand payment in exchange for becoming models in their finery?
Performing for tourists has become an income earner for tribal groups all over the world. But the income comes with a price. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Indigenous people and tourism:
Zoos & Sanctuaries:
Another popular activity on many travellers’ lists when in Asia is to volunteer at or visit an animal sanctuary for panda’s or other endangered animals. Unfortunately, many of these so-called sanctuaries are far from peaceful for the animals. Many are run for profit, deliberately breeding the animals in order to create cubs and babies to attract more tourists and often offering shows and rides, with no intention of rehabilitating animals back into their natural habitat. Some have also been accused of chaining and drugging animals in order to allow tourists to cuddle and pet them for photo opportunities, which in the past has ended in disaster.
Of course, there are many charities, organisations and genuine sanctuaries working hard to conserve and protect local wildlife, many of which welcome donations and help, so it’s best to do some careful research first to check where your money and/or time is going. One of the better options is Chimelong zoo in Guangzhou.
Tourists use more water than the ordinary consumer. Indeed, the water ‘footprint’ of the Western world, as in our carbon footprint, is very high. There are already serious water shortages worldwide and a prediction of ‘water wars’.
The United Nations has claimed that ‘The average tourist uses as much water in 24 hours as a third world villager would use to produce rice for 100 days.’ Tourists need unlimited supplies of water – they are used to it at home and desire copious amounts on holiday: for drinking, baths and showers, swimming pools, overflowing fountains and green manicured lawns.
But water, in developing countries, is often a precious commodity. More than 2 billion people lack access to clean water and sanitation, and 80 per cent of all deaths in the developing world are water related. Put a hotel near a local community and the pressure on the water supply is acute.
Tourism Concern has extensively campaigned on water equity and have published reports & articles on the topic. To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles: