Written by David Weaver.

President Xi’s Chinese Dream is an important framework for a national discussion on how China can successfully transform into a fully developed nation. The Dream, crucially, has both communal and individualistic dimensions, with the former expressed in the desire to cultivate national pride, a strong sense of community, a clean environment, and China’s international status as a great nation. The individualistic element involves the Chinese peoples’ aspirations for a higher standard of living and quality of life; ‘to be rich is glorious’ may or may not have been uttered by the paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, but the Chinese have certainly taken this adage to heart.

Perhaps less obvious is China’s emergence as a tourism ‘superpower’. In 2013, 98 million trips of at least one night were taken outside of the Chinese mainland by Chinese citizens, while 129 million overnight visits to China were made by tourists from outside the mainland. Most breathtaking of all, over 3.2 billion tourist trips were made by the Chinese people within China. These figures are astounding especially when you consider that China generated virtually no tourism activity of any kind as recently as the 1970s. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) now predicts that much of the impulse for international and domestic tourism growth in the next ten years will come from China.

The Chinese Dream and mass tourism, then, both stand firmly as major phenomena in contemporary Chinese society. As a professor of tourism management in an institution that encourages China-related research, I became intrigued by their relationship a couple of years ago, but quickly came to the realisation (to my dismay) that nothing at all had yet been written about that relationship. By way of beginning such an engagement, my university in late 2014 hosted the First East-West Dialogue on Tourism and the Chinese Dream, where colleagues from China, Australia and elsewhere gathered on the Gold Coast of Australia to examine whether and how tourism figures into conversations about the Chinese Dream. Outputs from that event demonstrated clearly how tourism can be seen under different circumstances as a manifestation, facilitator or inhibitor of the Chinese Dream.

Let’s consider each of these in turn. The most obvious relationship is how participating in leisure travel might be seen as manifesting or ‘living the Chinese Dream’ in a society with strong living memories of depravation and social upheaval. A question we can ask is whether a farmer’s first visit as a tourist to Beijing or Shanghai is a Dream fulfilled, or merely a rehearsal for the greater (and more prestigious) Dream of visiting London or Los Angeles. This forces us to think about motivations, expectations, experiences, and other aspects of travelling that influence how the sector evolves and responds to changing demands. It also makes us think how tourism competes with other leisure goods and services that also implicitly or explicitly represent Dream aspirations – is it the Dream Holiday or the Dream House?

In other instances, tourism seems to facilitate the Dream. This could well apply to the ambitious venders I encountered on a visit to the Great Wall, who seemed to be making quite a lot of money from selling souvenirs to the endless stream of (mostly Chinese) tourists trying to access the site. Would they make enough profit to fulfil their own Dream, and if so, would this include their own tourist travel? Perhaps less obvious is how travel, especially to iconic foreign destinations, helps to realise the Dream by conferring higher status and expanded social capital, just like the Grand Tour to Europe did for young adults in England during the 1800s.

But tourism can also inhibit the Dream. Being among the huge crowds that crawl along the Wall or stagger in tight tour groups across the Forbidden City can feel like a Chinese Nightmare, especially during Golden Weeks. Such scenes remind us that the expansion and modernisation of China’s infrastructure has not kept pace with the massive growth in tourism demand. They also remind us that while for the tourist this inconvenience is temporary, the Nightmare is much more prolonged for the local resident facing tourism-related congestion, pollution, acculturation and inflation. A more subtle Dream effect is experienced when a foreign tourist visits Beijing or some other large Chinese city for the first time, and is unlucky enough to time this with a particularly severe episode of air pollution; graphic and damning accounts of this posted subsequently on Facebook or YouTube might be undermining the collective Dream by damaging China’s external image and soft power aspirations.

These considerations only begin to hint at the possibilities for using the Chinese Dream as a framework for examining the development of Chinese tourism, and at the same time for including tourism as a major player in ongoing Chinese Dream discourses. An important consideration is how both the tourism sector and the Chinese Dream stress the need for economically, socio-culturally and environmentally sustainable outcomes, so that the latter might be seen as a framework for achieving sustainable tourism with ‘Chinese characteristics’. In effect, this would involve strengthening the roles of tourism as manifestation and facilitator of the Chinese Dream, and minimising the role of inhibitor.

It is very good indeed that Chinese culture and philosophy embrace paradox (think ‘yin yang’), because a huge challenge will be the reconciliation of the individual’s desire for a satisfying tourism experience or profitable tourism business with the collective desire for a clean environment and strong community. I hope that you too find this to be an innovative topic worthy of further investigation, and welcome your thoughts.

Dr. David Weaver has been employed as a Professor of Tourism Research at Griffith University (Australia) since 2008.  He has more than 30 years of experience teaching and researching in the areas of ecotourism, sustainable tourism, and destination management.  He is the author of Weaver, D. (2015). Tourism and the Chinese Dream: Framework for engagement. Annals of Tourism Research, 51, 54-56 and Weaver, D., Becken, S., Ding, P., Mackerras, C., Perdue, R., Scott, N., & Wang, Y. (2015). Research agenda for tourism and the Chinese Dream: Dialogues and open doors. Journal of Travel Research, 54(5), 578-583. Image Credit: CC by Chinese Tourists/Flickr.