This is the pre-publication version of the introduction to the special issue of Tourism Geographies, volume 16 (2014), no. 5 on Tourism Geography Research in China. (pages 711-716, DOI:10.1080/14616688.2014.963663)
Tourism research growth in China
Along with the growth in tourism, research into Chinese tourism has also been expanding. In mainland China, this growth is seen in an increase in tourism studies in the academic literature, the rise of projects funded by national research foundations, and the recognition of Chinese tourism journals, such as Tourism Tribune and Tourism Sciences, as important social science journals within China. These expanded interests are also seen in the international academic world, with contribution by Chinese scholars and other, both inside and outside the country. The Journal of China Tourism, for example, was established to meet the demand for more internationally accessible tourism research on China. Papers published in Tourism Management and other tourism English language journals have also been increasing (Tsang & Hsu, 2011). Due to these increases, there has recently been a boom of review articles on Chinese tourism research (in both Chinese and English), discussing research themes, disciplines, institutional contribution, and authorship. For instance, almost every issue of Tourism Tribune, includes a review-type article. Although these review articles are different in their database pools, they all agree that growth exists both in the quantity and diversity of the studies (see Huang & Hsu, 2008; Kong & Cheung, 2009; Chen & Bao 2011; Tsang & Hsu, 2011; Zhong, Wu & Morrison, 2013; Leung et al., 2013; and Bao, Chen & Ma, 2014).
The development of Chinese tourism research must be taken within the country’s unique social and cultural context. Tourism research in China started in the early 1980s in isolation from the international world. It was mainly driven by the potential economic contribution of tourism to a country that was emerging from a closed period of essentially no tourism (Lew, 1987). As a result, the tourism studies were mainly policy papers written for government bodies. The isolation of Chinese tourism research was gradually removed in the mid-1990s as the top universities in China were able to access international academic literature. The access to international journal papers greatly contributed to the styles of tourism research conducted in China in terms of research questions, research methods, and presentation format. In addition, after over a decade of tourism development (since about 1980), the impacts of tourism development began to be more clearly perceived, while the competition for tourist markets within China also increased. These changes also served as important factors prompting researchers to examine broader themes beyond the previous policy studies (Bao, Chen & Ma, 2014).
Although the topics are diverse and some topics are cutting-edge issues worldwide, the ways the research has been carried out are still different in China compared to international academic research. From the international academic point of view, some of the research done inside mainland China is conceptually and methodology weak and could benefit from greater engagement with international counterparts (Huang & Hsu, 2008). On the other hand, for tourism researchers inside China, although they feel that they have learned greatly from international colleagues in terms of research design and methodology, they also feel that the contexts of international research cannot be applied to China because it is detached from practice and the various constraints on carrying out field work inside China (Chen & Bao, 2011).
It is widely agreed that the dialogue between the two groups will bring benefits to each (Chen and Bao, 2011; Zhong, 2013). The way that most of that dialogue currently works is in the form of knowledge about Chinese tourism research flowing from international scholars to the mainland Chinese scholars through international English language journals. The flow from China to the international academy is limited because so few Chinese scholars are able to publish in English. Most of the mainland China tourism research papers that are currently published in English are found in the Journal of China Tourism Research. Although there has been an increasing trend of citing papers from Chinese journals in international publications. For instance, Tourism Tribune ranked among the top ten Chinese journals cited in English language journals. Still, the knowledge flow from mainland China needs to increase and there is a need to find ways to disseminate that knowledge to a broader audience (Leung et al., 2013). This special collection of papers in Tourism Geographies attempts to meet this need.
The research gap and the importance of the institutions in tourism in China
Zhong, Wu and Morrison (2013) published a recent review paper on China tourism research based on 333 articles on China’s tourism from 96 English-language academic journals within and outside the field of tourism from 1978 to 2012. (This paper has the largest database pool and the findings are consistent with Huang and Hsu (2008), who examined the articles published in Tourism Tribune from 2000 to 2005 in terms of research themes and research topics.) Both inside mainland China and in the English academic world, the two predominant research themes were (1) tourism policy and impacts and (2) tourism industry development and promotion. Tourism development, policy, ecological impacts, attractions and markets were the five most popular topics. However, listing only these research areas cannot really reveal the potential knowledge contributions to tourism research, apart from knowledge on research overall. We feel that a more specific analysis of these studies would reveal their potential contribution to a wider audience.
There are at least four factors that contribute to a wider audience of tourism studies: culture, institution, society and the environment. All four provide not only a context in which tourism is developed, but also determine how tourism can be developed. Meanwhile, tourism development itself has impacts on these factors. However, these factors are different in China from those in the Western context. The cultural perspectives are well studied (Xu, Din & Packer, 2008; Sofield & Li, 2011). Social aspects, however, has not been fully discussed as a research question in China. Chinese society has experienced a quick and massive change from rural to urban, from production-oriented to a consumption society, and from a closed to an open system. This dramatic change would have a great implication for theories and knowledge developed from Western society in which these same changes occurred over much longer periods of time.
The institutional environment of China is also crucial to understanding the tourism phenomena there, and it is one of the widely addressed topics in this collection of papers on China tourism research, especially through the theme of tourism policy. Comparable to the other factors (culture, society and environment), the unique institutional context in which China’s tourism develops has received the most attention here because the country’s tourism development is very much determined by government policy and institutional reform. China has been undergoing a great shift from a planned economy to a market economy. And although market forces have begun to have an impact on tourism development, the government still plays a dominant role, reflected in the widely used concept of “government-led tourism development strategies” with reference to mainland China.
Yu and Lu (2008) summarized the impacts of Chinese institutions on tourism development based on research published in Tourism Tribune from 1994-2005. They found five major research fields. The first was research on the impacts of institutions, especially the role of government in tourism development in the transition period from a planned to a market economy. In the tourism sector, the leading role of government in tourism development was reinforced and accepted when other sectors attempted to shift to market structures. There are debates on whether the strategy of governance playing the leading role in tourism development should be so dominant. The second institutional research area was the discussion of government intervention in tourism related industries and tourism enterprises. The third field of study included papers on the functions of specific sectors, such as hospitality, travel agencies and tourist attractions.
The fourth field of institutional research in China was on the impacts of the institutions on the utilization and conservation of tourism resources and heritage. This research received the most attention is the discussion of ownership and usage rights over the resources used in tourism production. This issue is of particular interest to tourism because property rights tend to determine the right to use and obtain benefits, efficiency and equality from resources. The last area was the impacts of institutions on regional tourism development. Their overall conclusion is that the institution environment play a key role in Chinese tourism development, at the national scale to the enterprise scale.
Overall, Yu and Lu (2008) showed that studies that include the role of China’s institutions had not occurred as much considering their significant role in the country’s tourism development. The authors also proposed a conceptual framework of institutional analysis, including informal or formal institutions and internal and external institutional dimensions. Based on this model, they found that existing research often treated institutions as an exogenous factor and that issues were often discussed at the macro policy level. There were very few that specified research questions on institutions and tourism at the local community level.
However, since 2008, discussions in China on tourism impacts on local communities from an institutional approach has risen considerably. This is due to several reasons. First, community tourism development has gone through the initial growth stage, and some of the social and economic impacts are now evident. Second, villages have been given more power to govern themselves. It is at the community level that direct election of the village head now takes place and communities are gradually taking more control of their own affairs. Third, together with the influence of the international research, the equality issue and the empowerment of communities in tourism development has begun to attract the attention of China’s tourism researchers. The study of tourism development at the rural community level is of particular importance in understanding modern China because it is at this scale that the complex and dynamic relationships between government, market and communities take effect, and diverse patterns can be found. The significance of institutions in tourism development can therefore be more clearly examined and understood.
The papers in this issue
Seven papers are included in this special collection all of which had previously been published in Chinese. The papers were selected to represent some of the most intriguing tourism geography research published in China, and to make that research more accessible to the English-speaking international research community. Six of these papers examine tourism development at the village scale, presenting different institutional patterns of community tourism, including a comparative study of two ethnic villages. The different development patterns unpacked in these papers are the result of variations in community culture, the property structure of the land, the government’s view of its role, and interventions from national and international experts, among other influences. For instance, the paper on the Tibetan village in Yuben shows strong community control of tourism development and regulations, with its members participating and sharing the benefits of the tourism development process (Zhang, 2014). In the case of Tiantang Village (Han et al., 2014) and Hongcun (Xu, Wan and Fan, 2014), the communities were disempowered in various aspects of their community’s tourism development. However, in the case of Furong village (Weng & Peng, 2014), the villages took action to take back the lands which were sold to outside investors. It can be seen that local governments play roles in tourism management, as regulators, entrepreneurs, managers and facilitators.
These findings also show changes in resident participation patterns in comparison to work in the early 2000s (Wall, 2006; Bao & Sun, 2006). Communities want to take a more active role in the tourism development process, and their interests are not limited to waiting for their share of the benefits. Their demands for a fair institutional arrangement has grown with the expansion of tourism development (Zhuang, Zhu & Deng, 2014). Chen and Bao’s paper (this issue) is included because through the comparative studies of three villages, they concluded that tourism is not the only key factor that determines change in rural China. Although their paper is not specifically on community tourism, the recent rise of large-scale resort development in China will not only change the tourism landscape, but also the rural landscape. This massive resort and real estate development is to a large extent determined by the institutional environment of land development. The inclusion of this paper raises the awareness of international researchers on this particular issue in China.
From an international scholarship perspective, readers may note distinctive writing and research styles in these papers that are characteristic of domestic academic authorship in China. It is generally common for research that undertaken for domestic presentation and consumption (as opposed to international distribution) to engage less with the international literature and theories in conceptually framing the research problem, and to emphasize rich empirical descriptions and analysis. This is an issue within many countries (such as China and Japan) and within regional grouping (such as South America and Germanic Europe), and gives each of these realms a distinctive research personality (cf. AAG, 2014). That research personality may be translated to a more global audience, but only within the parameters set by the culture of international research. Language is a major part of the challenge of internationalizing the richness of China’s tourism research. But even more essential is the need for China’s scholars to more actively engage with the international academy, which is, for better or worse, dominated by Anglo-American English publications (Lew et al., 2014).
With these considerations in mind, we believe that these are interesting research papers, not only for those with particular interests in China, but also as potential contributions that challenge and contribute to existing theories of tourism development and impacts.
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Bao, J.G., Chen, G.H., and Ma, L. (2014) Tourism research in China: Insights from insiders. Annals of Tourism Research, 45, 167–181
Bao, J.G. and Sun, J.X. (2006). The difference of community participation in tourism development between China and the west. Acta Geographica Sinica, 61(4): 401-413. (in Chinese)
Chen, G.H. and Bao, J.G. (2011). Progress on Oversea Studies on China's Tourism: A Review from the Perspective of Academic Contributions. Tourism Tribune, 2, 28-35. (in Chinese)
Chen, G.H. and Bao, J.G. (2014). Path Dependence in the Evolution of Resort Governance Models in China. Tourism Geographies (this issue).
Han, G.; Wu, P.; Huang, Y. and Yang, Z. (2014). Tourism Development and the Disempowerment of Host Residents: Types and Formative Mechanism. Tourism Geographies (this issue).
Huang, S.S. and Hsu, C.H.C. (2008). Recent tourism and hospitality research in China. International Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Administration 9(3): 267–287.
Leung, D.; Li, G.; Fong, L.H.N.; Law, R. and Lo, A. (2013). Current state of China tourism research, Current Issues in Tourism, 17(8): 679-704. DOI: v10.1080/13683500.2013.804497
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Lew, A.A.; Wall, G.; Huang, S.; Wei, X.; Zhang, L.; and Zhang, C. (2014). Discussion Forum of China Tourism Development: China Tourism Research: Domestic and International Perceptions. Tourism Tribune 1: 3-15. (in Chinese)
Sofield, T.H.B. and Li, F.M.S. (2011). Tourism governance and sustainable national development in China: A macro-level synthesis. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 19(4–5): 501–534
Tsang, N.K.F. and Hsu, C.H.C. (2011). Thirty years of research on tourism and hospitality management in China: a review and analysis of journal publications. International Journal of Hospitality Management 30(4): 886–896.
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Xu, H.G.; Ding, P.Y. and Packer, J. (2008). Tourism Research in China: Understanding the Unique Cultural Contexts and Complexities. Current Issues in Tourism, 11(6): 473-491.
Xu, H.; Cui, Q.; Sofield, T. and Li, F.M.S. (2014). Attaining harmony: understanding the relationship between ecotourism and protected areas in China. Journal of Sustainable Tourism. DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2014.902064.
Wall, G. (2006). Insights on Tourism from a Chinese Research Agenda. In J.G. Bao, H.G. Xu and A.A. Lew, eds., Community tourism and border tourism, pp.395-407. Beijing: China Tourism Press.
Weng, S. and Peng, H. (2014). Tourism development, rights consciousness and the empowerment of Chinese historical village communities. Tourism Geographies (this issue).
Xu, H.G.; Wan, X.J. and Fan X.J. (2014). Rethinking authenticity in the implementation of China's heritage conservation: The case of Hongcun Village. Tourism Geographies (this issue).
Yu, F.L. and Lu, L. (2008). A Study Review about the Impact of Institution on Tourism Development and Its Enlightenment, Tourism Tribune 9: 90-96. (in Chinese)
Zhang, X.M. (2014). Tourism and the "Villagers without History": The Case of Yubeng. Tourism Geographies (this issue).
Zhong, L.N,; Wu, B.H. and Morrison, A. (2013). Research on China's Tourism: A 35-Year Review and Authorship Analysis. International Journal of Tourism Research. DOI: 10.1002/jtr.1962. (online only)
Zhuang, X.P.; Zhu, H. and Deng, S. (2014). Institutional Ethics and Resident Perceptions of Tourism in Two Chinese Villages. Tourism Geographies (this issue).