To create an ethnic tourist attraction, tourism officials need to promote the exoticness of a locale. Tourism officials have done that extremely well in Yunnan, in cities like Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-La, and Xishuangbana, where many minority ethnic groups live. The paradox is, to create the illusion of exoticness, they need to do some creating, and creating is somewhat fake, contrived. It is, what tourism officials call, staged authenticity. People want to see some minorities dance or sing in an interesting way, so they might make a show about it, but that show might be made to appeal to tourists rather than traditional culture.
That’s one aspect, but another aspect is that simply by having a lot of tourists come in, there will have to be hotels and bars and such to accommodate the tourists, and that, in and of itself, will make the location become more tourist-focused and cause some of the locals to move out as they sell or rent their property to high bidders.
I lived in Yunnan for a few months, and you can see that happened to Lijiang. It’s a fun place with its bars, and it still has stone streets and ancient-looking buildings and such, but it doesn’t have quite the same local flavor as Dali does.
Here’s another paradox: There are also some reasons it might be good to play down your ethnic culture. If there is discrimination against your ethnicity, then maybe you want people to think you have been assimilated and are no different than the majority culture.
In Dali, the local Bai people often say they have been Han-ified (China is 99% Han), and the Han, in their evaluations of the 55 minority ethnic groups have long viewed the Bai as one of the more advanced ethnic groups.
In Megan Bryson’s (University of Tennessee) paper “Baijie and the Bai” (pdf) published in Asian Ethnology in 2013, she finds that some Dali tourism officials feel they are stifled by this view:
Tourism industry employees and local officials I spoke to in Dali
lamented the greater success of their northern neighbor Lijiang in attracting both
domestic and international tourists. This success rests on the superior marketing of
Naxi culture as an exotic commodity. In the case of ethnotourism, being “almost
Han” becomes a liability rather than an asset.