Tourists’ and local people’s discourses of World Heritage and cultural landscape

Three questions were asked for both tourists and residents about their understanding of‘World Heritage’and‘cultural landscape’ (Table 3.1). Nearly a quarter of tourists (19.5%) and 16.1% of local people did not know about the UNESCO programme or they had no idea about World Heritage. The result is not surprising, as the concept of‘World Heritage’ originated in the West and was not officially introduced in China until China signed the World Heritage Convention in 1985 (Yan 2018). However, nearly half of the interviewees’(41% tourist and 46.8% local people) understanding of the concept of heritage sites drew on the official versions of what World Heritage is considered to be. This included considering World Heritage to be related to culture and history, 13 of these respondents were tourists and 16 were local people. For example:

Table 3.1 What does World Heritage mean to you? (N=l 18,56 tourists, 62 residents)

Tourists (%)

Local people (%)

Within the official discourses of what World Heritage is considered to be



Don’t know



Advertise / regional business card / local business card / famous Touristic brand (positive)


1 1.3

Identity/memory work



Patriotism, nationalism



Natural landscape/ aesthetic





1 1.4




World Heritage represents a specific culture that has been developed over a long time. Our ancestors and people have made a significant contribution during this process.

(WL062, male, 25—34, tourist)

I think World Heritage refers to valuable sites or things that need to be passing to future generations.

(WL020, male, 25—34, tourist)

Urr, I think World Heritage is something that culture and history has bequeathed to us.

(WL042, female, 25—34, tourist)

World Heritage is a precious gift from God or from our ancestors. It belongs to the whole world. Everyone has a right to visit.

(WL078, female, 18—24, tourist)

Those examples represent the traditional AHD, which defines heritage as nonrenewable sites, objects or culture we inherited from our ancestors, and we have a responsibility to protect and pass it on to the future.Twelve interviewees nominated preservation or doing preservation; eleven nominated that natural and cultural heritage were from different categories, for example:

I think World Heritage is a comprehensive concept, which includes landscape sites, scenic and Historic Areas. It also relates to things with historical and cultural meanings.Therefore, the inscription on the World Heritage list ofWest Lake is qualified.

(WL027, male, 25—34, tourist)

Those examples reflect that a large number of tourists and local people accepted the Western discourse of‘World Heritage.’ In this sense, the ‘official discourse’ seems to have been successfully disseminated to local people and tourists via the government’s interpretations. However, my interview also documented that there were some tourists and local people who considered the meaning of ‘World Heritage’ beyond the AHD. For instance, nine interviewees considered World Heritage had links to identity and/or memory, such as:

World Heritage represents a kind of precious memory by each person of their visiting.

(WL083, female, 25-34, tourist)

World Heritage represents places or things that can be elicited from our old memories or even a sense of traversing. For example, compared to Shanghai, Hangzhou city has a different history, environment and feeling. Being in Hangzhou, you can feel that the atmosphere from when it used to be the capital city and economic centre of the Southern Song Dynasty.

(WL096, male, 18—24 tourist)

I do not care ifWest Lake is heritage or not, even the meaning of heritage is not important. How local people and visitors use West Lake is much more significant. If you insist on an answer, I think heritage is a place for local people and visitors. If both of them satisfied they have been in a heritage, the World Heritage programme is successful.

(W120, male, 45-54, tourist)

I do not know whether my opinion will fit your question or not. I think World Heritage is the stories behind a site or places. If the stories do not exist, the site is meaningless.

(WL115,male, 25-34, local)

WL115 considered that stories and intangible things are more important than material heritage. WL083 pointed out the linkage between heritage and tourism, which memory brings together. WL096 further considered that tourists’ memories and sense of place can be elicited by visiting heritage sites which reflect their personal or collective identities. The sense of feeling WL096 mentioned is a significant concept in this book. WL096 explicitly knew that being in the place had invoked his sense of feeling as he empathetic-ally experienced the ‘atmosphere’ ofWest Lake in the Southern Song Dynasty. His sense of feeling was about communication between the past and the present. In addition, from WL083 and WL096’s perspective, heritage, tourism and

Table 3.2 Do you understand the meaning of cultural landscape? (N=37, 14 tourists, 23 local residents)

Tourists (%)

Local people(%)

Do not understand literally, but can describe



Confusion, but still answered base on their own experiences






Talking about the new development ofWest Lake - positive









memories have an interplay with each other and reflect people’s identities. WL120 indicated that local people and tourists have the right to define what heritage is and how to use heritage. This group of interviewees reflect that the meaning of World Heritage is not only about the AHD, but a far more complicated link to peoples memories (WL083), their sense of place (WL096, WL115), their sense of feeling (WL096) and the interactions between tourists themselves (WL083) or between tourists and local people (WL120).

In terms of the question asked of both local people and tourists ‘what do you understand by the meaning of cultural landscape?’, only 14 tourists answered. Four of them didn’t understand the meaning (Table 3.2), while two tourists nominated the new development ofWest Lake. Eight tourists were confused but still answered based on their own experiences. Below are two examples:

I think landscape is a dominant element ofWest Lake. People are also very important to the sites, and I think local people’s daily lives are perfectly merged with tourism development which is better than other places.

(WL078, female, 18—24, tourist)

I think West Lake represents a city merged with its landscape, a modern city and historical setting. It is fascinating.

(WL102, male, 25—34, tourist)

As for local people, four local people nominated the positive development of West Lake over the previous ten years. Eleven (47.8%) did not understand the term cultural landscape explicitly, but can describe it. For instance:

I think, compared to the landscape in Suzhou, West Lake is changing in a different period. The new Xixi National Wetland Park is a recent development of West Lake. In general, West Lake is a combination of culture and nature, and culture dominates nature.

(WL030, female, 45-54, local)

The interview result shows that the majority of tourists and local people did not know how to answer or were confused by the concept of cultural landscape. Only some local people had a relatively clear answer to this question. One of the significant reasons for this is, as Zhang (2017) reveals, that both local people and tourists did not participate in the World Heritage listing process. The Hangzhou government only used the Western AHD, including the definition of cultural landscape, as a guide on how to treat local people and tourists, and disseminated this concept through the internet, newspapers and TV broadcasts ( 2011; People, com 201 la). Therefore, to some extent, the percentage of local people who can describe some characteristics of the cultural landscape was higher than tourists.

The interview results also reveal that many local people and tourists were constructing their ideas of heritage and the meanings of the sites without necessarily referencing the authorised discourse. For instance, a question was asked about ‘what categories ofWorld Heritage do you think make up West Lake?’ (Table 3.3). The majority (81.8%) response was shared by both local people (77.4%) and tourists (87%): that West Lake is predominantly a site which displays a combination of both culture and nature. Examples of these include:

West Lake possesses both nature and culture. As I said, many sites have a similar lake including, for instance, South Lake in Jiaxing city and East Lake in Shaoxing city. They all look beautiful, but without cultural accumulation. When you are visiting West Lake, you can find every architecture, temple, street and even tree have a long history or an interesting story. These are the reasons why West Lake is outstanding and unique.

(WL006, male, 18—24, local)

Table 3.3 What categories of World Heritage do you think make up West Lake? (N=99, 46 tourists, S3 residents)

Tourists (%)

Local people (%)

Combination by both nature and culture









Cultural landscape (similar define with UNESCO)






West Lake is dominated by nature. There are more than 1500 years of a long history. Hundreds and thousands of paintings, poems and stories were being created to compliment the natural beauty of West Lake. Without the natural elements, the cultural parts were meaningless [...] In my mind, West Lake accounts 70% for nature. The Summer Palace that is located in Beijing, I would say 90% accounts for culture. Because the Summer Palace serves the imperial family, although it is affected by the design ofWest Lake.

(WL033, female, 24-34, local)

West Lake is like a masterpiece of traditional Chinese landscape paintings. The distance and size between the lake and the distant mountains cannot be copied. Together with the intangible cultural heritage of the White Snake and the spiritual sustenance of the literati of the past dynasties, it perfectly reflects What is the fusion of culture and nature.

(WL043, male, 25—34, tourist)

I think West Lake is dominated by cultural, which could account for 70% of it. In my opinion, the most important [aspect] of a World Heritage [site] is the historical value, which provides meaning to the site. West Lake used to be a capital city of the Southern Song Dynasty, and the traditional literature and poems were written to describe the beauty of the Lake. Nature is [also] a key element.

(WL075, male, 25-34, postgraduate, tourists)

The majority of interviewees saw the interrelationship between culture and nature as critical to the character ofWest Lake. However, their sense of place was different: some of them considered that culture and nature are equally significant (WL006 and WL043); some of them considered that culture carries more weight than nature (WL075); while some of them nominated nature to be more important than culture (WL033). Nevertheless, the answers they provided are very sophisticated, which reflects that they had been engaged in a deep thought process during their visit rather than receiving the authorised discourse. The above four examples show that both local people and tourists clearly understand the cultural significance or OUV ofWest Lake nominated by the local government. WL006 compared West Lake to South Lake in Jiaxing and East Lake in Shaoxing, which was linked to his personal memories or experiences. WL033 nominated histories and culture based on their personal interest in answering the question. WL033 compared West Lake to the Summer Palace in Beijing to explain his sense of culture and nature. The interview results reveal that nature and culture are seen as indivisible by the majority of interviewees.

Gong (2001) and Han (2006) argue that a key difference between Chinese and Western culture is the Chinese sense of nature. Confucianism and Daoism are the two most significant Chinese philosophies and are considered to be the roots of Chinese ideology. They have been influenced by Chinese theories and practices for more than 3000 years (Zhang 1992;Wang 1998; Han 2006,2012). Both of these philosophies have pointed out that the link between culture, nature and people is that of ‘Oneness with nature where nature and people form a cosmological whole’ (Han 2012: 93). This discourse of harmony is ubiquitous in Chinese school textbooks, paintings, stories and poetry, and has influenced local peoples and tourists’ sense of West Lake. The poems in textbooks all Chinese students use at primary school and high school give them an empathetic sense of the ancient scholars visiting a pretty landscape with mountains and water features, drinking wine, composing poems and enjoying themselves. It represents how the Chinese people have been influenced by the sense of'har-mony between human and nature’from childhood, which explains whyWL043 when interviewed explicitly described his aesthetic and poetic sense of feeling about the ‘landscape painting’ at West Lake. Many other examples of tourists and local people’s sense of feeling will be discussed in Chapter 4.

This section shows that tourists were asked about official terms such as ‘World Heritage’ and ‘cultural landscape’.The majority of visitors’ responses are still influenced by the AHD and tended to provide passive messages. However, when asked whether West Lake is a natural or cultural heritage, the answers from tourists and residents have become more active. The key reason is that their collective memory is influenced by traditional Chinese philosophy, so they can better understand the natural and cultural integration value ofWest Lake. In the following sections, I will illustrate that both tourists and local people can provide more sophisticated understandings ofWest Lake than UNESCO and ICOMOS experts from Western countries with expertise in heritage assessment. I will unpack their responses based on three essential themes that are critical to West Lake World Heritage bidding: ‘The cultural diversity and integrity ofWest Lake,’ ‘West Lake is a changing landscape’ and ‘Emotional feeling associated with the notion of ten poetically named scenic places.’

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