INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TOURISM RESEARCH Int. J. Tourism Res.

11, 439–450 (2009) Published online 30 December 2008 in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com) DOI: 10.1002/jtr.712

Rural Tourism Development in China
1

Shunli Gao1, Songshan Huang2,* and Yucheng Huang3 The Coordination Department, China National Tourism Administration, Beijing, China 2 School of Management, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia 3 Tourism and Event Management School, Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade, Shanghai, China ABSTRACT This paper provides an overview and brief evaluation of China’s rural tourism. Beginning with the form of poverty alleviation through tourism, China’s rural tourism has undergone over 20 years of development and exhibited some unique features in its development pattern, scale and business operational models in accordance with China’s political, social and economic systems. Government plays a decisive role in developing rural tourism in China. However, rural tourism has been valued mainly as an economic means for rural development during the country’s modernisation process. Overlooking rurality as an essential issue in rural tourism may lead development to a wrong direction, which could jeopardise the sustainability of the industry. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Received 25 January 2008; Revised 6 November 2008; Accepted 11 November 2008

Keywords: rural tourism; China. INTRODUCTION

R

ural tourism is a popular topic in tourism research both in China and internationally. However, it seems that Chinese tourism researchers are not exchanging their research outputs in this particular research area effectively with their interna-

*Correspondence to: S. Huang, School of Management, University of South Australia, Elton Mayo Building EM317, City West Campus, North Terrace, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia. E-mail: sam.huang@unisa.edu.au

tional counterparts. While a burgeoning literature on many aspects of China tourism (e.g. Lew and Yu, 1995; Xiao, 1997; Zhang et al., 1999; Pine, 2002; Lew et al., 2003; Zhang et al., 2005) is easily available to the international tourism academic community, apparently, there still exists a relative dearth of research into rural tourism development in China by scholars outside China. In contrast, due research attention has been paid to rural tourism in an exclusively dedicated issue of the International Journal of Tourism Research in 2004 (Sharpley and Roberts, 2004), which had a similar endeavour to that of a special edition of the Journal of Sustainable Tourism 10 years earlier. Geographically, research in rural tourism published in international tourism journals covers mostly Europe, North America and Australasia, while China seems to have been left out. Rural tourism is largely a domestic phenomenon with a disparate nature across countries and continents (Gartner, 2004; Sharpley and Roberts, 2004). This explains why the current literature in rural tourism has seen a significant number of case studies in terms of countries and rural tourism attractions in different countries. Despite the specificity of rural tourism to a country’s political, economic and social systems, issues of definition and conceptualisation have been sought (Lane, 1989, 1994a, 1994b; Sweeney, 1995). Lane (1994b) suggests that rural tourism, as a concept, is a form of tourism that is located in rural areas, is rural in scale, character and function, reflecting the differing and complex pattern of rural environment, economy, history and location. Sharpley and Roberts (2004) also concluded that two other themes could be identified for rural tourism research. They are rural tourism as ‘sustainable’ activity and rural tourism as an agent of rural development. The disciplinary knowledge in rural tourism
Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

as a means to spur the country’s rural economy and social development. Despite the nation’s continuous modernisation efforts. ‘farmer’ and ‘rural area’. China is a country with a dominant rural population. 2007a). some Chinese scholars reviewed China’s socialist development and modernisation process and classified the problems and issues with rural development as ‘agriculture’. 439–450 (2009) DOI: 10. considering most of China’s scenic attractions and spots are located in western and rural areas. shortly as ‘Three Nong’ issues. A household production contract encourages average rural households to increase their productivity. the research outputs regarding rural tourism in China have been published mainly in Chinese and thus cannot be effectively communicated to international readers. has been attached great importance by tourism authorities at both national and provincial levels (Shao. as the compensation for the arable land lease. Wang (1999) introduced rural tourism research undertaken by overseas tourism scholars and systematically elaborated on the conceptual aspects of rural tourism.1% of the country’s total population (NBSC.440 appears to have been accumulated in an inductive way by adding new cases from different countries. they can get any extra amount of their production for their own consumption. the pace of rural development was slowed down. S. have been frequently listed on the national government’s top agendas. 2007). Rural tourism.39 billion. Ltd. Consequently. As the first bold policy step to break the bond of the totalitarian planning economy system.1002/jtr . For a long time. accounting for 56. 1989). among 9000 articles in tourism research. Ling used the concept of ‘rural tourism’. and the development gap between urban and rural areas was reduced. 2004). some researchers in China started to study tourism in parallel with agriculture (Liu D. Once a household can fulfil the quota. rural living conditions were improved significantly. 2007a).. Liu Ming’s study (Liu M. the international academic community has gained little knowledge in this field. The ‘Three Nong’ issues have since become an analytical framework to solve problems arising from China’s rural development for both the government and academics (Lu. Although rural tourism is significant in China in both its current scale and development potential. only 60 articles were relevant to rural tourism. They define the term ‘tourism agriculture’ as tourism taking agricultural landscape and attractions as objects to visit. rural tourism must be a significant part in the domestic tourism. 1989) combined the agricultural activities with tourist experiences and for the first time broke through the boundary of sightseeing tourism. rural regions. Regretfully. China’s rural population in 2006 was 737. his research was mainly limited to the field of ‘agriculture’ but not studying ‘rural’ tourism in a broader sense. the volume of China’s domestic tourism reached 1. Yin (2004) conducted a literature review on rural tourism in China based on relevant articles in the China Academic Journals Full-text Database and found that from 1997 to 2003. rural development has remained one of the priorities of the nation’s social and economic development policies. which meant tourism development over rural landscapes and attractions. Tourism Res. 11. farmer and rural area. In 2006. In 1990. This paper aims to introduce China’s rural tourism development and practices to the Int.4 million. making China the largest domestic tourism market in Asia (China National Tourism Administration (CNTA). However. Gao et al. 1990). starting from 1985. the household production contract system was initiated in rural communities in late 1970s. J. which refer to issues of agriculture. for the three words in Chinese all begin with ‘Nong’. It is commonly believed that China’s economic reform started from the rural areas. when he advocated the development of rural tourism resources (Ling. In the end of 1990s.. In the late 1980s. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBSC). the nation’s economic development strategies changed and the national income distribution system once again started to favour city-dwellers. Although no statistical data are available to show the share and weight of rural tourism in China’s huge domestic tourism market. tourism policies have been formulated to facilitate the development of Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons. A typical contract would set up quotas for households to give part of their annual production to the country and the collective organisation they belong to. As a result. In the late 1980s. However. The ‘Three Nong’ issues.

Hebei Province (CNTA. generating quite impressive economic benefits and social impacts (Li. Ltd. In the next section. responding to the central government’s call on poverty alleviation. restaurants. The standard was set as an annual per capita income of 206 RMB in 1985 and was equivalent to an annual per capita income of 625 RMB in 2000. These small businesses involving farmers complemented the entire tourism supply system that state-owned tourism enterprises could not fully cover. horse renting and rickshaw services (Gao. According to statistical data reported by provincial tourism authorities to the CNTA. 2007b). 441 other economic activities. which was a hallmark event in the rural tourism development in China (Gao. 439–450 (2009) DOI: 10. PAT was initiated in the early 1980s (Yuan. experiences and problem of developing rural tourism in China are presented subsequently. Zhu. were derived by rural residents’ spontaneous business behaviours to improve their living conditions. the same year also saw a population of approximately 3 million people being released from poverty-stricken living conditions because Int. the historical development of rural tourism in China is reviewed. Emai Mountain in Sichuan Province (Ji. 2004) are discussed to evaluate China’s rural tourism practices. 2008). After that. Some farmers would be able to seek additional incomes from nonagriculture fields. 1993) and the town of Huangguoshu in Guizhou Province. Tourism Res. In 1996. As can be seen from this paper. retailing. After the opening-up and reform policies were adopted in 1979. 2006).1002/jtr .Rural Tourism Development in China international audience and can be regarded as the first attempt to enrich the literature in rural tourism with an additional case from China. Rural tourism development first took the form of poverty alleviation through tourism (PAT). the current state of rural tourism is discussed. China has been practising a government-led tourism development strategy. Farmers who reside around famous tourist attractions had the opportunities to earn some money by providing a variety of services to tourists. Examples representing these efforts were Yesanpo in Lai Shui. These spontaneous PAT-related business activities were gradually recognised by local tourism authorities and it was realised that tourism can help alleviate poverty in rural areas. some village-level authorities and individual farmers gradually joined the development of rural attractions and became the major players of rural tourism development and operation. In the early 1990s. 2006). After noting rural tourism policy directions. In addition to presenting an overview of China’s rural tourism development. J. The initial standard to define poverty or poverty line was calculated by the government after surveying rural residents’ family expenditures. The major achievements. Ancient Cave of Alu in Yunnan Province (Yang. 10 000 villages nationwide had lifted themselves out of poverty by developing tourism in 1996. China did not start its rural tourism until the early 1980s. promotion and guidance of local tourism development under their jurisdiction into the broad government agenda of poverty alleviation. Later. The original PAT-related activities. photographing. governments at all levels have played a leading role in developing China’s rural tourism. the authors also intend to evaluate China’s rural tourism policies and practices using Sharpley and Roberts’s (2004) three themes as an analytical framework. The government-defined poverty population in China had been reduced from 250 million in 1978 to 30 million in 2000 (The State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development. some provincial tourism authorities actively integrated the organisation. 2008). They could operate smallscale tourism businesses and services based on tourist attractions around their residential areas. the three themes of rural tourism development (Sharpley and Roberts. 1985. The business types and services provided include family-run hostels. Shao. 1997). 1985). HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT Unlike countries in Europe and North America where rural tourism has a history of approximately 100 years. 11. shortdistance transportation. 1987. CNTA and The State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development jointly held the national conference on poverty alleviation through tourism in Zhangjiajie of Hunan Province. probably without any government intention. farmers in China were given more freedom for their agricultural production and Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons.

it should be classified as a leisure and holiday product. eco-tourism and mountain tourism around suburban and rural areas could be planned and constructed Int. In the 2001 national tourism work conference. 11. it has become a popular rural tourism product for the mass market (Shao. large range of product qualities and scales. 2007). The HFH products can suit the mass tourism needs and thus become increasingly popular. The following reasons can be identified for the fast spread of HFH provisions in China. At the same time. China began to adopt a system officially establishing 5 work days per week. Ltd. folk culture tours in rural suburbs of Beijing. tourism’s function in leading the development of other industries should be stressed. An increasing number of farmers have realised that developing rural tourism facilities such as HFH would put them in better living conditions than running other businesses. 2008). Fourth. As a cluster of rural tourism products. the HFH had an early beginning. Later the guidelines of establishing national PAT experimental zone were formally adopted on the national tourism work conference in 2002. mass consumerism in tourism has created a huge market for rural tourism. Sichuan Province and villages with ancient style buildings at the foot of Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province (Gao. Some provinces reported a rough estimation of over 50 000 HFH provisions. Tourism Res. S. 2007). as implementation measures. In the mid-1990s. the HFH still appears to be a vigorously growing rural tourism sub-sector. Most of the HFH provisions are simple dining and accommodation services and remain in low quality. the CNTA set up the first PAT experimental zone in Xihaigu. The number of the HFH provisions in the country is not available right now because of a lack of accurate statistical procedures for rural tourism facilities. Second. second. it serves the mass tourism market in China from a market perspective. ethnic village tours in Guizhou Province and the HFH products in the living areas of ethnic minorities such as Tibetans. The government hoped to combine new agricultural development forms with tourism in order to solve the problem. there are also a number of branded HFH products such as Happy Orchid of Plum (Xingfumeilin) in Chengdu. With nearly 15 years of development. it is a complementary tourism product surrounding core tourist attractions and large-scale tourism provisions. These Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons. the function of tourism as a tool for pulling farmers out of poverty has been commonly acknowledged. extended versions of HFH include Happy Fishermen’s Home in coastal areas. Since the early 1990s. As a new term in China’s tourism lexicon. J. The HFH has the following salient characteristics: first. 2008). The newly emerged tourist market requested some nontraditional tourism products. some projects of rural tourism. with the restructuring of rural industries.442 of tourism development (Gao. Gao et al. They are more suitable for individual farming households to invest in and operate (Gao. Miaos and Dai People (Gao. China’s steady and fast economic growth and social development has enabled urban residents to take leisure and holiday activities in rural areas. Vice Premier Qian Qichen noted that in the new century. and huge number of provisions. 2007a).1002/jtr . First. The HFH represents a form of rural tourism products invested and operated by individual farmers and mainly offers tourist dining and accommodation services. 2008) A second phenomenon that emerged from the rural tourism development in China is the Happy Farmer’s Home (HFH) (Nongjiale in Chinese) products. It should be noted that some extended forms of HFH have emerged in recent years. Other features of the HFH developments include: farmers as investors and operators. Ningxia. the basic meaning of HFH is to experience and enjoy the happiness of rural life. which is called Liupanshan PAT Experimental Zone. the HFH projects are small and require less investment. Third. the 2-day weekend system and the three Golden holiday weeks provide Chinese people with sufficient holidays for tourism consumption. However. In August 2000. third. most provinces might have 20 000 to 30 000 HFH provisions. 439–450 (2009) DOI: 10. which obviously propelled the development of holiday tourism. relocating extra labour of rural areas appeared to be a prominent problem. tourism development should help facilitate the improvement of the structure of national economy. strengthening the importance of PAT on the CNTA’s agendas (Li.

The Standards is an important policy instrument for China’s rural tourism development. it includes the following evaluation categories: number of visitor arrivals and economic return. Following the conference. Once the minimal scores have been achieved. 2007b). municipalities and autonomous regions of the country.1002/jtr . there had been 574 rural tourism demonstration samples in all the 31 provinces. to further the development of rural tourism. there are no specifically designated statistics for rural tourism development in China. and the rural tourism receipts were over 300 billion RMB. Development scale Currently. which was promulgated by the CNTA in 2002 (CNTA. In 2006. development foci and objectives. according to data available from relevant tourism surveys organised by the CNTA. 439–450 (2009) DOI: 10. it can be estimated that the current scale of rural tourism in China is very impressive. To clarify the principles. more than 20 000 villages were developed mainly through involving in rural tourism operations. The RTDEs are tourist attractions that take the themes of agricultural production process. the CNTA adopted work guidelines of vigorously developing rural tourism. management.Rural Tourism Development in China (Sun. In 2007. We estimate that in 2006 the total number of visitors received by rural tourism operators was over 500 million. The total score for all the evaluation categories/items is 1000. By the end of 2007. the CNTA and the MoA have formulated a series of policy documents to further develop rural tourism and leisure-based agriculture (CNTA. 1000 townships and 10 000 villages as rural tourism development examples during the eleventh 5-year period (2006–2010). Based on the extensive investigation on the rural tourism situation. the CNTA set the annual promotion theme as China’s City and Countryside Harmony Tour. 443 Rural Tourism Development. the CNTA issued the Guidelines for Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons. Rural tourism enterprises scoring 700 or above can be labelled as a National Rural Tourism Demonstration Example. J. The CNTA will conduct a final assessment after a rural tourism entity has passed the assessment conducted by a provincial tourism authority. Table 1 lists all the development patterns and provides a brief description for each of them. The major policy for the RTDEs is the National Standards on the Evaluation of Industrial and Rural Tourism Examples (Trial Version). Rural tourism attractions or facilities can take a selfassessment following the criteria and improve their products or services wherever necessary. ecological and environment benefits. However. 11. the CNTA started to advocate and promote the Rural Tourism Demonstration Examples (RTDEs). It also signed an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) to jointly promote rural tourism development and the construction of new socialist rural communities. The two central government agencies have planned to gradually present 100 counties. In addition. husbandry and fishery. 2002). a total of 474 RTDEs have been publicised in three batches. Ltd. By the end of 2007. 2007d). The advocacy and promotion of RTDEs has facilitated the mutual utilisation and development of both tourism and agriculture. accessibility and development potential. and farmers’ work and life scenarios and have a demonstration effect nationwide. they can submit an application to provincial tourism authorities. rural lifestyles. tourism products. CURRENT STATE Development patterns Ten development patterns of rural tourism were identified in the National Rural Tourism Work Conference in 2006 (CNTA. 2006). a bonus score of up to 50 could also be granted. Tourism Res. Domestic tourists have a range of transport means to access rural tourism attractions: most city-dwellers would Int. safety. social benefits. infrastructure. Specifically. The range of RTDEs has also extended into other related industries such as forestry. 2002). Examples for each pattern are also presented. As a favourable policy. operation. in order to effectively implement the national strategy of establishing new socialist rural communities. applicants from western provinces can secure the title with a score of 650 or above (CNTA. and over 6 million rural residents had benefited from rural tourism development. ‘China Rural Tourism’ was also used as the year’s tourism promotion theme.

444 Table 1. Gao et al. Sichuan Province 9 Ecological rural tourism attractions Villages with superb ecological environment 10 Heritages and historical sites for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Rural tourism attractions based on CCP’s historical and memorial sites Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons. Heilongjiang Province • Dai Village. Yunnan Province 2 Tourism products and services depending on the neighbouring major attractions’ source market Tourism accommodation services and other facilities in small towns with historical remains and cultural heritages Rural tourism operations based on well-preserved ecological environment. Yunnan Province • Jiangwan Township. Jiangxi Province • Nanhua Village. vegetables. Wuyuan. hitech agricultural bases. 11. J. Beijing • Yannanfei Tea Field Resort. Sichuan Province • Tuanjie Township. Zhejiang Province • Jiangxiang Village. Taining. etc. Tourism Res. Development patterns of rural tourism in China. Wuyuan. Xishuangbanna. 1 Development pattern Holiday. Nanning. 3 4 Folk culture villages 5 Tourism operations driven by ethnic culture and traditions 6 Tourism operations led by agricultural plantations and processing Modernised rural community areas • Pangezhuang Township. Fujian Province • Tengchong County and Shun Township. Guangan. Guangxi Autonomous Region • Tengtou Village.1002/jtr . Kaili. Jiangsu Province • Xibopo Township. Int. No. Villages and townships with well-developed economy and beautiful and neat living environment Ecological farmlands. Mei County. Kunming. Pingshan. Ltd. Beijing 7 8 Agro-tourism sites • Bagui Garden.and leisureoriented rural tourism businesses Tourism operations depended on neighbouring large-scale and wellknown attractions Tourism operations in some historical and cultural towns Description Can also be called the Happy Farmers’ Home Examples S. Fangshan District. Chengdu. Daxing. Guizhou Province • Likeng Village. Yunnan Province • The Jade Valley in Huangshan • Shuiji Village. Guangxi Autonomous Region • Dragon Back Terrace Fields in Longsheng County. Jiangsu Province • Hancuihe. mainly located in remote regions where ethnic groups live Rural tourism operations based on plantations of fruits. etc. flower plantations. Jiangyin. Changshu. Jiangxi Province • Hala New Village. Guangdong Province • Huaxi Village. tea. landscape and folk cultures in these villages Rural tourism taking ethnic culture and unique lifestyles as main attractions. Hebei Province • Paipang Village. Fenghua. • Sanshenghua Township. 439–450 (2009) DOI: 10.

The sixth model is householdrun small business which is represented by HFH on a rural household basis. vegetables. In this model. Propelled by the development of rural tourism. which engages farmers in different services (e. have greatly improved their social and economic conditions since the adoption of the strategy of developing rural tourism. rural tourism has heightened the awareness of ethnic culture and environment protection. which used to struggle with poverty. Operational models Six operational models can be identified for rural tourism in China (Gao. As one of the benefits brought by tourism development. Rural tourism has been proved to be an effective means to absorb surplus rural labour and redirect rural employment to non-agricultural sectors. Farmers can benefit from rural tourism development directly by operating family-owned hostels. 2007). 2007). sightseeing agriculture and hi-tech agriculture have also experienced rapid development. The third model is labelled as government plus corporation plus farmer. rural tourism in China has created nearly 4 million direct job positions. 2007b). Third. they gradually recognise the importance of the ecological system. thoughts and philosophies. The Jade Valley of Tangkou Township in Huangshan municipality is a good example. Rural tourism has transformed farmers into tourism service providers. 11. accommodation) or service elements in a flexible way. The development of rural tourism has brought to farmers not only economic benefits but also new ideas. The fourth model takes the form of individual grange. MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS Despite a short development history. by selling handcrafts or self-produced foods and agricultural products or by sharing profits generated from house building and land contribution. Along the development process. Ltd. farmers have significantly Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons.g. farmers are involved in the development process by leasing out their land and house buildings. dining. village committee). Some mountainous areas. Thanks to the development of rural tourism. all elderly people in the village enjoy a free aged care for the time being (Gao. the local community authority would encourage. restaurants and HFHs. Fourth. as well as admission fees. Tourism Res. J. To date. fruits and poultries are consumed locally by tourists and thus have increased their added values. which is distinct from HFH in its large size and operation scale. 445 increased their income levels by developing rural tourism. The first model can be labelled as corporation plus farmer. historical heritage. ecological agriculture. Taking account of indirect and seasonal jobs. managing agricultural plantation activities for the corporation or sharing the profits as shareholders. This model takes the local community as a nexus and base. 2007). the village reached an average household income level of over 30 000 RMB (approximately US$4150) in 2006 (Gao. Agricultural products such as grains. Second. The fifth model is called farmers’ co-operatives. local farmers join the rural tourism system either by providing tourism-related services or by operating restaurants and accommodation facilities. it is estimated that over 15 million jobs are generated because of rural tourism (Shao. rural tourism in China has made a series of achievements. mobilise and organise farmers to actively participate in the tourism operations. Farmers have gained a different view on the value of tourism resources.g.Rural Tourism Development in China take self-driving or suburban train and bus transportation to travel to suburban rural areas. rural tourism has promoted the restructuring of the rural industries. rural tourism has created large quantities of re-employment for oversupplied rural labour without geographic labour relocation. Then. First. The second model can be labelled as corporation plus community plus farmer.1002/jtr . 439–450 (2009) DOI: 10. investors set up tourism development corporations and lease land and other resources from farmers to develop rural tourism attractions and facilities. long-distance travel to some nationally well-known rural tourism destinations would involve train or air transportation. Government agencies take the lead to form tourism development corporations or invite outside investors to develop rural tourism based on the existing resources. ethnic Int. Tourism corporations would first sign an agreement for cooperation with the local community authority (e.

439–450 (2009) DOI: 10. Gao et al. 2007b). Rural tourism construction always leads to ecological degradation and environmental damage because of a lack of professional planning and development expertise (Zhou et al. rural tourism operators in the same region face intense competition from each other and the competition reduces the profitability and sustainability of rural tourism businesses. farmers can increase their ability to adapt to the new development situation in rural areas and learn the rules and principles of the country’s transitional market economy system (Shao. such as poverty alleviation and social development of rural communities. Ltd. which means that within a certain geographic area. The inflows of tourists connect rural communities to well developed cities and thus accelerate the development pace of rural economy. and even social disorders (Liu. As a result. rural tourism in China was not a complete market-led phenomenon. S. Although rurality is recognised to be the essence of developing rural tourism (Sharpley and Roberts. conflicts of interest among stakeholders. infrastructure. Some small business owners and operators in rural tourism tend to upgrade their tourism product design. rural tourism provisions are generally in a primitive form such as simply offering overnight stays in farmers’ homes.g.. Involving themselves in rural tourism. one of the trends in developing rural tourism in China is deviating away from rurality. festivals. facilities following urban construction fashion styles and standards. lack of rural community participation and involvement also leads to local residents’ resentment towards toursim development. Guizhou and Sichuan. In some places. and ancient streets in water towns along the Yangtze River (Shao. 11. rural tourism products exhibit a high degree of homogeneity (Tian. quality rural tourism attractions should also be developed to attract international markets and domestic niche markets. changing the rural environment and reorganising the rural Int. with rustic landscape. farms). rural tourism is related to other issues in rural areas. Farmers are organised in a new system of production through rural tourism. tourism industry knowledge and computer skills.1002/jtr . J. Dongba scriptures of Naxi people in Yunnan. It serves to enhance the sustainability of rural development in China by increasing farmers’ income. In the process of rural tourism planning and operation. Some new policy directions are addressed here for a good understanding of China’s rural tourism development in the near future. 2008). The government has played an important role in directing and promoting rural tourism development. Further stressing rural tourism in a strategic level Rural tourism development has helped activate the rural economy in China. HFH. The future development of rural tourism in China would see more government involvement and actions. 2008). tourists would naturally find rural tourism facilities and attractions less appealing. 2008). all rural tourism provisions take the same product form (e. to meet the needs of a mass market. In the current rural tourism development stage. On the government’s agenda. Some heritage sites and cultures in China have been well preserved because of the development of rural tourism. the Grand Singing Ceremony of Dong people in Guizhou. foreign language. 2004). Rural tourism development has also led to some social changes in rural areas.446 architecture. 2007b). PROBLEMS A number of common problems can be identified from the current practices of rural tourism in China. Jin merchant houses in Shanxi. As new urban-style buildings are emerging Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons. Examples include ethnic household architecture in the border areas connecting Yunnan. POLICY DIRECTIONS From the very beginning. farmland harvesting and experiencing farmers’ festivals. and traditional craftsmanship in the development of tourism and are highly motivated to preserve and protect some declining or nearly lost ethnic cultures. Some of them have received service and skills training covering Mandarin. However. Tourism Res. Rural tourism is a revolutionary tool to harness the rural resources. folk music and dance. ancientstyle houses.

the CNTA and the MoA signed an agreement to jointly promote rural tourism development in the country. township and village levels to regulate rural tourism development through a standardisation procedure. rural tourism deserves more strategic thinking among the policy-makers and supportive policies. provincial and city levels. and thus has a huge market potential. First of all. The title can be used for branding. Applicants should continue their efforts to meet all the requirements set in the criteria lest their title be revoked after re-evaluation. Ltd. The leading team is responsible for policy-making. Following the agreement. Third. First. 439–450 (2009) DOI: 10. Co-ordination and commitment from multiple government agencies On 20 March 2007. it will be a technical evaluation system that will be implemented by professionally accreditation commissions at the national. and attempt to publicise some important regulations in the name of the State Council and other policy documents with other relevant ministries to increase the implementation power. Framework of the National Rural Tourism Evaluation Criteria The formulation of the National Rural Tourism Evaluation Criteria (briefly as the criteria) started in July 2007 (CNTA.Rural Tourism Development in China industry structure. we would find some features with Chinese characteristics. the two government bodies should work Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons.1002/jtr . China’s rural tourism provides leisure and tourism products to the mass market. criteria formulation and policy implementation regarding rural tourism. On the other hand. while experiencing rurality is assumed to be the principal motivation to drive visitors to the countryside. In this regard. Second. 2007c). the CNTA and the MoA should work together to study the current situation of rural tourism and jointly report the findings with recommendations to the State Council. EVALUATION If we look into China’s rural tourism development and policy practices using Sharpley and Roberts’s (2004) three themes as a theoretical framework. neither government nor business operators fully realise the importance of maintaining rurality to the sustainability of rural tourism in China. Instead. townships and villages that take rural tourism as one of their development themes can apply for an authorised assessment that may lead to them being granted the title of ‘Rural Tourism County/Township/Village in China’. Joint work agenda by the CNTA and the MoA The agreement between the CNTA and the MoA also states the two ministerial bodies’ joint work agenda. Tourism Res. they should formulate regulations. the accreditation is not a once-in-a-lifetime honour. The first draft has been completed and public consultation is under way. In poverty-stricken areas where essential Int. 11. the Chinese government tends to value economic growth by developing rural tourism. the National Rural Tourism Work Leading Team was set up with offices in the Coordination Department of the CNTA and the Development and Planning Department of the MoA. positioning. The accreditation process will involve a visitor survey. The formation of the leading team changed the previous administrative situation that rural tourism is only under the jurisdiction of tourism authorities. According to the conceptualisation of the criteria. Generally speaking. policies and administrative measures in supporting and facilitating the development of rural tourism. destination image-building and other marketing purposes. 447 together to solve restrictive problems and foster a better environment for the development of rural tourism. Fourth. the CNTA and the MoA should formulate rural tourism criteria at county. The proposed rural tourism evaluation system would not follow a government-dominated work procedure. J. and preliminary results will be publicised nationally and open for public feedback and monitoring. It can also affect the transition of China’s mass tourism from a sightseeing oriented market to a leisure-and-holiday oriented one. counties. The commitment made by the MoA could expedite the development of rural tourism in the future.

the Chinese government has played a decisive role in rural tourism development. rural tourism has been viewed as a tool to facilitate social harmony and help construct the new socialist rural communities. While rurality is essential to developing rural tourism. in practice. the current practices should be warned against pulling rural tourism away from rurality and Int. rural tourism was integrated into the national project of poverty alleviation. Zhao 2008). the function of rural tourism as a measure to preserve ethnic cultures has also been fully acknowledged by the government. While published articles can be found elaborating on sustainable rural tourism and the social and economic impact of developing rural tourism (e. 2008. Rural development is a major issue in China.g. The dilemma can be best expressed in a Chinese idiom: to kill the hen for the egg. Although both social and ecological/ environmental benefits are stated as evaluation criteria in the National Standards on the Evaluation of Industrial and Rural Tourism Examples (Trial Version). Tourism Res. CONCLUSIONS The discussion of rural tourism development in China cannot be separated from the context of China as a country with a dominant rural population and a socialist political system plus an emerging market economy. 11. Rural tourism has increased farmers’ awareness of the importance of environment and environmental protection to the sustainability of rural economy. the sustainable features of developing rural tourism are still overlooked. Moreover. In the beginning of rural tourism development. both the government and local communities are keen to develop rural tourism since PAT has proved to be an effective means to get them out of poverty. political and economic transition. However. Environmental sensitivity in rural areas raises the issue of environmental protection in developing rural tourism. However. Actually. they would naturally improve their quality of living by building new houses. Recognising the importance of rural tourism in transforming rural economy and the development of rural society. development process are mainly related to the sustainability of rural tourism. Gao et al. S. It is understandable that as a developing country. As the primary goal of developing tourism is to economically benefit the local residents. A relatively strong government involvement is a salient feature of rural tourism in China. Ltd. Recently. They noted that the rural tourism development pattern in South Africa is different from that experienced in former central and eastern European countries in the 1990s. Du and Xiang. the sustainability issue has attracted less attention from government and business practitioners than academics. roads and other facilities that look more urbanised. social and economic systems. J. Tourism can be an effective means of spurring and promoting rural development in China. In addition to its economic function to revive or make the rural economy boom. the dilemma of developing rural tourism is obvious. 1999. However. China has regarded tourism mainly as a development tool to further spur its economy. once the local community have become richer.448 resources for developing rural tourism exist. all the development practices in China’s rural tourism seem to eliminate rurality. Other developing countries would probably take the same stand. The tourism industry in South Africa has also been seen as a central support for the economic reconstruction and development of the nation. 439–450 (2009) DOI: 10. Another lesson we learn is that we need to construe China’s rural tourism within a much broader context of China’s political. one of China’s modernisation policies is to urbanise most of its rural areas. rural tourism is also highly regarded by the Chinese government for its derived social and environmental functions. Briedenhann and Wichens (2004) studied rural tourism in the context of South Africa’s social. Hu.1002/jtr . Theoretically. Consequently. special features in one theme would help explain phenomena in another. most of the problems occurring in the Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons. the case of China reveals that these themes are closely related to each other. we can understand rural tourism in the three themes identified by Sharpley and Roberts (2004). If this continues to be the government’s future policy. China’s practices and policies tend to stress rural tourism as ‘an agent of rural development’ rather than as ‘sustainable activity’.

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