Our Mistaken Search for “Authenticity”

“Our Mistaken Search for ‘Authenticity'”, published in map magazine in September 2014

On TripAdvisor, many of the reviews of Jinli Pedestrian Street in Chengdu criticize the popular attraction because it’s too commercialized. “It is now a completely commercial zone, capped off with, wait, you know it, a STARBUCKS!” says a top contributor from El Paso, Texas.

It seems foreigners always hate something that is too commercialized and are always looking for the most “authentic” thing. I have felt the same way, too, from time to time. Whenever the topic of Yunnan comes up, I tell people not to go to Lijiang but to go to Dali instead. (Of course, Dali has bars and hotels, too. After all, without commercialization, there’s nowhere to sleep.)

In our search for “authenticity”, it’s worth defining what we’re looking for. According to the China Highlights travel agency, “Jinli Old Street is one of the oldest shopping streets in Sichuan Province, and it can be traced back to the Three Kingdoms Period, over 1,800 years ago.” Does it really make sense to criticize an ancient shopping street for being excessively commercialized?

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Feature image taken by Mitchell Blatt.