The Location of Cultural Authenticity: Identifying the Real and the Fake in Urban Guizhou

Kendall, P. 2017. The Location of Cultural Authenticity: Identifying the Real and the Fake in Urban Guizhou. The China Journal. 77, pp. 93-109. doi:10.1086/688851

TitleThe Location of Cultural Authenticity: Identifying the Real and the Fake in Urban Guizhou
AuthorsKendall, P.
Abstract

This article examines notions of cultural identity and authenticity and how these notions are articulated in the small city of Kaili in Guizhou Province, an ethnically diverse region. Despite its urban status, Kaili has been branded by the local government as a yuanshengtai tourist destination. This Chinese term literally translates as “original ecology” but is used in ordinary conversation to denote a cultural authenticity in which people exist in quiet harmony with nature. Promotional literature uses the term to tout the ethnic cultural practices that mainly occur in the villages of Kaili’s municipal periphery. In contrast, many local urban inhabitants—although amenable to the promotion of Kaili as a tourist destination—have rejected the notion that the city itself could be considered culturally authentic, and proudly declare themselves “fake” ethnic minorities, as against the “genuine” ethnic people of surrounding villages. These small-city inhabitants have also defined themselves against big-city visitors by attributing to the visitors a naïve fascination with cultural authenticity, while themselves remaining aloof from such practices. The cultural authenticity discourse in Kaili has thus facilitated a reordering of social and spatial hierarchies, as blasé small-city residents define themselves against both culturally authentic rural people and authenticity-seeking big-city tourists. In analyzing this, the article draws out the broader implications regarding PRC notions of ethnicity, cultural practices, heritage, and identity.

KeywordsChina studies
urban studies
authenticity
ethnicity
rural-urban divide
yuanshengtai
small cities
JournalThe China Journal
Journal citation77, pp. 93-109
ISSN1324-9347
Year2017
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
Accepted author manuscriptChina Journal article repository version.pdf
Publisher's version688851.pdf
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1086/688851
Publication dates
Published17 Oct 2016
Published online17 Oct 2016
Published in printJan 2017

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