Displacing Desire

Displacing Desire: Travel and Popular Culture in China

Beth E. Notar
Copyright Date: 2006
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  • Book Info
    Displacing Desire
    Book Description:

    Why do millions of people from around the world flock to Dali, a small borderland town in the Himalayan foothills of southwest China? "Lonely planeteers"— American, European, and Israeli backpackers named for the guidebook they carry—trek halfway across the globe to "get off the beaten track," yet converge here to drink coffee, eat banana pancakes, and share music from home. Coastal Chinese who are prospering in the phenomenal economic growth of China’s reform era travel thousands of miles to sing songs and dress up as their favorite characters from a revolutionary-era movie musical. Overseas Chinese from Southeast Asia as well as a new generation of mainland youth follow in the footsteps of heroes and villains from Hong Kong martial arts novels, seeking an experience of a Buddhist "wild, wild, West" at a martial arts theme park dubbed "Hollywood East," or "Daliwood." Inspired by representations in popular culture that engender fantasies of the exotic, these tourists, Western and Chinese, journey to Dali, Yunnan, in search of an imagined place where they can indulge their craving for authenticity, display their status in the present, and act out their nostalgia for the past. Based on more than a decade of ethnographic research, Beth Notar explores struggles over place as people in Dali attempt to represent their historical identity and define their future. Displacing Desire takes representation into the realm of practice to consider the ways in which those who are represented must contend with their image in popular culture and the material after-effects of representations even decades after their original production. It contributes to an exploration of travel as performance of nostalgia, fantasy, and status. More specifically it contributes to an understanding of the growth of consumer culture in China, examining what China’s modernization process and market economy mean for different social actors in their struggles over power and place.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6219-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. A Note on Transcription
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  6. Measure Conversions from Chinese to American and Metric
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  7. CHAPTER 1 With the Sign Begins the Search
    (pp. 1-19)

    It was gone. The old No. 2, the center of backpacker culture in Dali for two decades, where I had first stayed as a student traveler, had been reduced to rubble. In its place stood a wall of billboards advertising that this would be the future site of “Foreigner Street Plaza,” an open-air mini-mall of elegant shops and boutiques. On “Foreigner Street” the few foreign backpackers wandered a bit forlornly. Whereas they had once congregated in this borderland town in the Himalayan foothills of southwest China to get off the beaten track and view exotic minority peoples,theywere now...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Lonely Planeteers and a Transnational Authentic
    (pp. 20-46)

    “They are trying to turn all of China into America and all of America into New York,” Frank sighed. Frank was a twenty-something Muslim who, with his family, ran one of the most successful transnational backpackers’ cafés in Dali. Like the other café owners in town, he had given himself an English name for the convenience of his customers. Frank had slept in the back of his café in a turquoise vinyl booth—it had been a late night of serving beer and playing tunes for the backpackers in town—and had just awakened. He did not seem embarrassed to...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Five Golden Flowers: Utopian Nostalgia and Local Longing
    (pp. 47-79)

    As usual, the television set was on in the Yao family living room. Every night after dinner, Mr. Yao, two of his daughters, some neighbor children, and I would sit on bamboo settees in the living room and gaze at the screen. The television had been placed in a position of honor against the west wall, atop a wooden rice chest, next to where the family genealogical scroll was hung during the seventh lunar month, when the ancestral spirits returned to visit.

    This evening, however, the living room was crowded with other villagers, and we were not watching a Hong...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Heavenly Dragons: Commodifying a Fantastic Past
    (pp. 80-110)

    In 1994 I read an article in a Dali journal that intrigued me. The author, Zhang Nan, a Chinese resident of Dali, suggested that since Hong Kong author Jin Yong’s martial arts novelHeavenly Dragons (Tianlong babu)“makes readers have wild and fanciful thoughts about Dali,” developers could use it to market Dali to national and Overseas Chinese tourists (Zhang Nan 1994, 141). Zhang Nan urged developers not to just sit back and wait for the fans of Jin Yong’s novel to arrive. Instead, they should actively develop the tourism potential of the novel and capitalize on it, following the...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Earthly Demons: Displacing the Present
    (pp. 111-136)

    The local television station announced the opening of the tourist cave on the evening news.¹ Bright flags flew outside while prefectural, township, and village-level officials cut a red ribbon. The site was called, as Zhang Nan had proposed in his development plan for Dali based on Jin Yong’s martial arts novel, “Heavenly Dragons Cave” (Tianlong Dong) and had been constructed halfway up the mountainside not far from Butterfly Spring. Several villagers I knew visited the cave shortly after it opened. They described their experience there as “strange.” One woman told me that she was terrified going through the dark places...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Off and On the Road to Reform
    (pp. 137-140)

    “It was as if they had cut off our tongue,” Yang Lanhua, a Bai village woman told me. She was referring to a small spit of land that had stretched from her village out into Lake Er. A few months earlier, village officials, in the hopes of attracting tourists, had decided to sever the spit of land from the shore, dig a canal for pleasure boats, and construct a scenic half-moon stone bridge over it. The new stone bridge, while not unsightly, was inconvenient for fishing families who had to carry their supplies and catches up and over the steep...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 141-150)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 151-186)
  15. Index
    (pp. 187-193)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 194-194)