SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.19 (2023)

Strategic Use of Ethnic Status:

A Case Study of Tourism Development by Heishui Tibetans
in Heishui County, Sichuan Province


Department of Comparative Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI

Key words:

tourism promotion, development, ethnic minorities, ethnic status, Heishui Tibetans

The May 12 Wenchuan Earthquake in 2008 caused enormous damage in the ethnic minority areas in the northwestern part of China’s Sichuan Province. The author started research in 2010 on the Tibetan people in the disaster-affected area of Heishui County with a focus on reconstruction after the Sichuan Earthquake. Through an extensive period of fieldwork, it became clear that in addition to recovery from the disaster, but also a poverty alleviation program implemented since 2013 have resulted in a drastic changes in the daily lives of the Heishui Tibetans, while their own expression of ethnic awareness has become more apparent. One of the reasons for this may be attributable to the promotion of tourism as a means of economic growth, transforming the ethnic minority culture into a resource. At the same time, however, the reality is that the ideology of national unity of the Chinese nation is being strengthened. The purpose of this study is to clarify how the Heishui Tibetans, a sub-group of the Tibetan ethnic group, use their own ethnic status strategically with tourism development as momentum.

The author first introduces the “depoliticization” theory of the development of China’s ethnic minorities and its counterarguments to demonstrate the theoretical interest of this paper, followed by a discussion of the historical and cultural context of the complex ethnic affiliations of the Heishui Tibetan people and the basis for focusing the Heishui Tibetans. Shifting the focus to current tourism development, this study then clarifies the strategic use of the ethnic status of the Heishui Tibetan people by referring to case studies of Yangrong, a tourist village, and Red tourism in Heishui County. Finally, the author concludes that the Heishui Tibetan people strategically use their ethnic status to secure political legitimacy so that they can participate in development, demonstrate the authenticity of their ethnic culture, and take part in the ideology of national unity.