Emotional interactions between local people and tourists

Table of Contents:

The interviews in all of my case studies have shown the complex emotional interactions between local people and tourists. The sense of pride of local people was magnified when they had communicated with or made an emotional connection with tourists. In the case of West Lake (see Chapter 4), local people wanted tourists to experience or ‘feel’ their sites. Some of them hoped that tourists could gain cultural experiences, enjoy local customs or food from Hangzhou, some of them expect tourists could take their time to ‘feel,’ to enjoy or to ‘taste’ the poetic meaning of Hangzhou (e.g. WL076), and some of them hoped tourists could recognise or explore the culture and history beyond the authorised discourse. During my interviews with local people in West Lake, the majority of them were very engaged in the conversation we were having and displayed strong emotional registers of engagement. I easily related to the narratives they were relating, as they were very sincere. Against much of the heritage literature and policies made by international and national authorities, who criticise the destructive nature of mass tourists to local communities, my research clearly shows the majority of local people were willing for tourists to come to West Lake, which was tied to their strong sense of pride.

At Xidi and Hongcun, the majority of local people’s livelihoods depend on tourists. Clearly, the dramatic development of tourism has been influenced by World Heritage designation (see Chapter 5 and 6). With the development of tourism, hostels operated by local people along with other tourism businesses have emerged. My survey reveals that nearly all of the residents I spoke to were willing for tourists to come to their villages. Apart from economic factors, a sense of protection of both tangible and intangible heritage, and the local people’s pride as above noted, there is a sense of emotional connection between local people and tourists.The hostels (run by local people) were the places that magnified those emotional connections. Those types of hostels were normally traditional Huizhou dwellings renovated by the house owners (local people) to meet their personal needs. Many tourists frequently booked local hostels using social networking services such as

/ Message board in Hongcun’s local hostel (photo by Rouran Zhang)

Figure 7. / Message board in Hongcun’s local hostel (photo by Rouran Zhang)

Tj'Off Qiongyou.com or ctrip.com.They could write their own stories about their visit and detail their experiences and inspirations and compare them to other tourists’ experiences before they set off. Therefore, the hostels provided places for communication or emotional engagements between local people and tourists or tourists themselves. Some of the communications or emotional engagements were shallow or banal. However, in many cases, the communications or emotional engagements were very deep, and some tourists had written down (or sketched) their experiences and feelings and posted them on the message board. Other tourists could be inspired, or have empathetic feelings during their visit (Figure 7.1).

I remembered the day I had a conversation as a tourist with HC051, who is the owner of a local hostel. She told me that interactions and communication with tourists could provide her with a great sense of pleasure and contentment:

In the early morning, I saw my neighbour emerged out of the mist, with some dirt on her shoes. She was carrying a basket of fresh vegetables from her farm to the morning market. I smiled and said hi to her and then I went to Mr Wang’s house, which is close to Moon Pool to have a cup of tea and some breakfast. From his house, I saw four women were washing clothes in the pool. They were chatting with each other, laughing. In the meantime, there were several elderly people who were drinking porridge at the opposite side of Moon Pool. Suddenly, I heard a large group of footstep getting closer, which I knew meant today’s first group of guests was coming. Some of these visitors were asking about the culture or the customs of the village from the local tour guide; and some of them were shooting photos of the pool, the houses, the reflections and the villagers. I like this kind of lifestyle.

(HC051, female, 45-54, local)

HC052, who is a local scholar, also operates a hostel, and wrote a book ififf'fj

Dream of the Old Village. In his book, he mentioned that he had built a deep relationship with a Beijing tourist, Ms Meng, who had been to Hongcun many times and witnessed and experienced the exceptional beauty of Hongcun, and ‘spring’s rape flowers, summers lotus, autumns red leaves and winters “white village’” (Wang 2013: 175).The touristic places in Hongcun and surrounding areas did not attract her, ‘the only reason she has come to Hongcun regularly is the deep interactions between the author and her’ (Wang 2013: 176). In Mr Wang’s book, he literally dreamed that he had an empathetic role as he turns into Ms Meng and dreamt how she would experience and enjoy contemporary life in Hongcun (Wang 2013: 175-184). In Xidi, XD038 experienced a deep bonding with tourists, as she made ‘close friends’ and ‘exchanges postcards’ and ‘fresh tea’ frequently (Chapter 6).Therefore, I argue that there is an emotional sense of pleasure and contentment, and even personal bonding occurred, when local people feel they had made a connection with tourists. Those interactions between local people and tourists keep the heritage alive, and it is an active process that creates memories between local people and tourists. As Smith (2006, 2012: 213) has argued, heritage is not ‘frozen in time,’ but rather is a performance, the act of which keeps the historical and heritage meanings and the values they represent relevant to society. In Smith’s work (2006, 2012, 2015, 2017), she examined the relevance of this performance to tourists/ visitors, and this research suggests that residents also engage in this performance, and that, moreover, they make meanings that reinforce their own identity and pride from witnessing the performances of visiting enacted by tourists.The interconnections and performances between tourists and local people construct the meaning of heritage. As I conducted my survey at West Lake, I also witnessed this relationship build between local people and tourists in hostels run by local people (e.g.WL097 in Chapter 4).

From the tourists’ perspective, the level of emotional engagement with a sense of contentment seems magnified when tourists feel they had made a connection with local people and with the site. In the case of West Lake (see Chapter 4), communicating with the local people (e.g. WL078,WL083, WL118), enjoying or participating in local people’s activities (e.g.WL028), listening to the stories of Hangzhou from local people, or watching the elder local people’s performances such as Tai Ji or Square Dance were performances that elicited tourists’ sense of belonging. At Xidi and Hongcun (see Chapter 5), my survey shows that the sense of contentment was also widely found when tourists are deeply engaged in communicating with local people. Some unremarkable details of the villages, such as ‘preserved ducks hanging under the roof’ (e.g. XD047), the busy morning market with fresh vegetables and food (e.g. HC040), and ‘a simple poster posted on the wall of a residents house, which indicates that the house owner is going to butcher a pig and hopes villagers will come to buy fresh meat at that time’ (e.g. HC005), have made tourists feel that the heritage is alive.The sense of being ‘alive’ is what tourists found as they visited the two villages, which facilitated their sense of contentment.

Both studies reveal a similar process of interaction between local people and tourists. A sense of pleasure and contentment was generated between tourists and local people at nationally significant heritage sites such as West Lake and regionally significant sites such as Xidi and Hongcun. My research also finds that government control of authorised tourism enterprises interrupts the sense of contentment and bonding that both case studies have shown, stemming from the cultural interaction between tourists and local people. What Xidi shows is that those cultural interactions among tourists, local people and physical sites become magnified if local people control tourism. The reason is linked to who has the right to manage heritage. The tourism management in Hongcun is run by Co. Jingyi Ltd, which is the external company authorised by the local government. From the perspective of local communities, the tourism company was only concerned to protect the historical and cultural appearance of heritage sites, which was required by national or international policies. Therefore, some regulations and rules have been imposed since Hongcun was successfully inscribed on the WHL. For instance, local people had no right to maintain their own buildings unless approved by locally authorised so-called ‘qualified’ construction teams.5 However, based on their traditions, traditional houses were normally maintained by local construction teams.

Therefore, those management strategies were the invisible ‘boundaries’ that had resulted in local people’s sense of alienation from their own culture. In Xidi, tourism management was run by local people for more than 20 years. However, in mid-2013, the state-owned enterprise Co. Huihuang Ltd took charge, though the new tourism company had, at the time the interviews were undertaken, limited influence on existing tourism management. The local governments and tourism company intended to copy Hongcun’s tourism management experiences in order to replicate Hongcun’s tourism income. However, there were strong complaints and resistance from Xidi’s villagers, as they feared both physical and cultural alienation from the state-run tourism company taking over management from local people. In Hongcun, local government, the tourism company and local people seem to have found a balance with each other and are aware that breaking the balance might negatively influence their income. Therefore, some tourists who went to both villages considered Hongcun to be more ‘unified’ than Xidi, while XD047 considered Hongcun a commercial place, yet identified Xidi as‘alive’ (see Chapter 5).

Poria et al. (2003) argue that visitors engaged in an emotionally heightened register when they felt the heritage site relates to their family or ethnic connections. However, my research reveals that tourists with deep emotional registers and a poetic sensibility are responding to things that may not necessarily connect to their family or ethnic identity, but rather connect to their sense of place. My research also further identified the emotional feeling was not just in the tourists’ connection to the site, but extended when there was an interplay of identity with local people. My interview results in Xidi and Hongcun show that local people in Xidi had a strong feeling of the sites belonging to them as a part of their identity. When the local governments took over the management from the locally run company, they expressed a deep, depressed emotion about their feeling of intimacy with their village. In essence, their sense of place was blocked by the ‘boundaries’ set up by the local government. While in Hongcun, apparently, local people did not express a depressed emotion because their income is higher than Xidi’s. However, they also did not report the deep sense of place I recorded in Xidi. Scholars such as Chen (2005), Liang and Wang (2005) and Ying and Zhou (2007) have documented a fierce conflict among local people, the local government and the external company about the ownership of the management rights (see Chapters 5 and 6). However, local people failed twice with legal challenges, and in the end did not have any choice but to accept a situation they could not control. As I spoke to them about the management and ownership issues they became cynical; they tended to ignore or to complain about the management and then turned to compare tourism income with Xidi. In this sense, the income became a buffer zone among local people, the local government and the external company in Hongcun. Local people had no choice but to ignore their sense of place and put more emotional engagement into tourism. HC028 and HC052 are two local scholars I interviewed in Hongcun who did not participate in any decision making about tourism management or the World Heritage listing process. HC028 was sincerely worried about the way government control constrained both local people and tourists’ sense of freedom. HC052 avoided considering the local government control; rather, he spent more than ten years writing his book, Dream of the Old Village,

which documents not only the history and customs of Hongcun but also the positive changes that tourism brought to the village.

Compared to Xidi and Hongcun, West Lake is much larger physically, as well as being of greater importance in terms of the depth and complexity' of its cultural and historical layers. However, the sense of bonding between local people and tourists was not as strong as in the two villages. The reason is not that government control was stronger than in Xidi and Hongcun. Although the Hangzhou government intended to ‘educate’ tourists about the international and national discourse (Zhang 2017a), the example of the West Lake museum, as noted above, illustrated that tourists have agency, do not easily accept the imposed AHD and have their own understandings of heritage. The livelihoods of the majority of Hangzhou residents did not depend on tourism, so their interactions with tourists were primarily tied to a sense of pride. Some local people were engaged in hospitality, located around Maojiabu, the Linying Temple and the Longjin Tea Plantation Base, and I identified that they had similar experiences of emotional bonding between tourists and local people as I found in the two villages (e.g.WL097 in Chapter 4). However, because of the national significance of the cultural and historical layers ofWest Lake, tourists come to the site for a variety of reasons.The sense of contentment was not only elicited by the interaction between tourists and local people but also generated by the connection between the tourists and the physical sites. My survey shows that the relationship between tourists and physical sites at West Lake was multidimensional, and tied to their sense of feeling, and stronger than in the two villages (see Chapter 4 on feeling a sense of place).

Some local people in my two case studies mentioned the negative effects that tourism has. At West Lake, some local people considered that tourism inflated food or housing prices, and caused commercialisation, bad traffic conditions and crowding during weekends and public holidays. The management literature has emphasised the pollution and physical damage to sites that tourism can cause and notes that these impacts can erode local heritage values (see, for example, Harrison 1994; Swarbrooke 1995; Hall and McArthur 1998; Leask and Yeoman 1999; McKercher and du Cros 2002; Pedersen 2002 among others). My research shows that, although local people at West Lake listed those negative impacts, which are not something that can be ignored, the majority of them nonetheless considered the benefits that tourists contributed to the site carried more weight than the negative impacts. They knew how to minimise those negative impacts. For instance, WL005, WL058 and WL076 (see Chapter 4) mentioned that mass tourists had influenced their daily life, particularly during public holidays. However, they did not hate or curse mass tourists; rather, they chose to leave the touristic places to the tourists and went to other places instead. The sense of pride that tourists brought to local people has influenced local peoples attitude and performances.

Some local people want tourists to know about the general stories of Hangzhou, such as the White Snake story, and stories ofYue Fei,Yu Qian and Su Dongpo, etc. Some local people wanted tourists to explore some hidden stories,

such as the histories of the Republic period that were ignored or excluded from the Communist harmony discourse. Many local people wanted tourists to be present at the physical sites and feel the poetic or romantic sense ofWest Lake. WL076,WL088 and WL093 nominated their sense of pride elicited by tourists who take their time to feel the Ten Poetically Named Scenic Places ofWest Lake, such as Lingering Snow on Broken Bridge or f] Three Pools Mirroring

the Moon. Indeed, my interview reveals that both local people and tourists can feel the poetic meaning ofWest Lake (e.g.WL043 [tourist], WL009,WL033,WL076 and WL093 [local people] in Chapters 3 and 4, and WL088 in this chapter); however, being at the physical site did not elicit similar poetic feelings or thought processes from the ICOMOS experts (Zhang 2017a, Zhang and Taylor 2019).

From the dominating perspective of practitioners, the industrial transformation from tea farming to tourism services would change and erode the ‘authenticity’ of the site (SACH 2011). Ironically, my survey at West Lake and the two villages shows that the majority of local people thought that tourists had brought positive changes, not only the economic benefit or cultural gain as identified above, but also a sense of bonding between tourists and local people. As WL051 states, tourists and tourism ‘brought cultural diversity and vividness to the city’The majority of local people I interviewed were explicitly aware that Hangzhou is an ‘international touristic city,’ and are proud of this title, and considered tourists to be significant to the identity of Hangzhou city.

In addition, I was informed by local government officials and Co. Jingyi Ltd in Hongcun during my interviews that they planned to reform and unify the local hostels and handicraft shops in order to meet the World Heritage standards and provide a ‘better’ environment for tourists (Figure 7.2). I also received messages recently from my friend who operates a hostel at West Lake World Heritage area that the provincial government has held an international conference to discuss investment in and the development of local hostels. She (WL097) posted on WeChat6 that:

I am worried about the strategy that the provincial and local government is encouraged to bring external capital to local hostels. Those external companies only care for economic benefits, and the use of media and government resources to promote their business. The real local operators do not have any benefits from those government policies. The authenticity of the local hostel has been eroded.

(WL097, female, 25-34, local)

WL097 is worried that ‘the authenticity of the local hostel has been eroded.’ The authenticity she references is not the physical authenticity of the site, rather an emotional authenticity that occurs between tourists and local people.

New handicraft shops in Hongcun (photo by Rouran Zhang)

Figure 7.2 New handicraft shops in Hongcun (photo by Rouran Zhang)

This section has argued that the significant interaction between tourists and local people, and the individual and interlinked performances of both tourists and local people, construct the contemporary meaning of heritage. There is a tendency to ignore the interaction that occurs between host communities and tourists or to see it mainly as a problem, or as largely a result of the naturalising effects of the AHD. Heritage tourists tend to be defined in heritage policy as passive consumers who are to be educated about the meaning of heritage as framed by the AHD and used by local and national governments in response to UNESCO World Heritage requirements. Community participation in heritage management, interpretation and conservation work has been increasingly stressed in the heritage literature (see for example Hayden 1997; Newman and McLean 1998; Hodges and Watson 2000; Byrne et al. 2001; Smardz Frost 2004; Smith 2006, Smith and Waterton 2009a; Waterton and Watson 2010, among others), although the extent to which this is really addressed in relation to World Heritage sites is still very limited (Labadi 2013). However, the literature on community participation has paid little consideration to how the communities and tourists may interact.This gap in the literature is largely a result of the naturalising effects of the AHD, which considers heritage as an object frozen in time and space and displayed behind fences, rather than a changing process that tourists and local people may play an active role in.


Overall, the book argues that World Heritage Listing brought economic benefits, in particular for the two villages, and it is interwoven with the issue of tourism. These benefits are, however, counter-balanced by negative impacts such as pollution, crowding, increased food or housing costs, cultural commodification and commercial changes, which have been addressed in both case studies. However, it also brought positive impacts, such as improved infrastructure and funding for conservation. It offered opportunities for local—tourist dialogue that augment local and tourist heritage values. While there were some exceptions (particularly at West Lake where residents were relocated prior to listing), the majority of local people interviewed in the two case studies tended to have very positive views about tourists visiting their sites. Overall, the World Heritage listing and the presence of mass tourists had elicited a sense of pride in residents. Local people wanted tourists to ‘feel’ their sites, and they hoped that the tourists could invoke a sense of belonging or feeling for the site and communicate with local people. In return, tourists enjoyed communicating with local people. There is a strong sense of contentment that emerged when tourists felt that they had made a connection with local people. Third, the heritage tourists were very active during their visit; the values that they expressed about the sites they visited were often tightly linked to their identities.Tourists at heritage sites did not necessarily passively accept the authorised messages or governments’ interpretations. They were actively working out, remembering and negotiating their own, often thoughtful and considered, cultural meanings. The fears of commodification and ‘dumbing down’ of culture and history often associated with mass tourism and associated changes to the value ofWH sites (Hewison 1987; McCrone et al. 1995; Brett 1996; Handler and Gable 1997; Shackel 2013) were not supported by the interviews with tourists.

Therefore, my research supports Smith’s (2006,2012, 2017) observation that heritage is an emotional and cultural process. The meaning of heritage and tourism is interlinked in my two case studies. Smith (2006, 2012) argues that the process of visitation of each tourist constructs the meaning of heritage. My research reinforces her argument. I further argue that heritage is created not only by the ‘cultural moment’ from each visitation, but is a process of feeling, a dialogue between past and present, and a communication between personal internal worlds and the outside world; it is also created by the ‘cultural moment’ of the interplay of local people, tourists and government control.


  • 1 Wang Yangming (31 October 1472—9 January 1529) was a Chinese idealist NeoConfucian philosopher, official, educationist, calligraphist and general during the Ming dynasty. After Zhu Xi, he is commonly regarded as the most important NeoConfucian thinker, with interpretations of Confucianism that denied the rationalist dualism of the orthodox philosophy of Zhu Xi. Wang was known as ‘Yangming Xiansheng’ and/or ‘Yangming Zi’ in literary circles: both mean ‘Master Yangming.’ (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Yangming.)
  • 2 Source: http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/eastasia/wangyangl .asp.
  • 3 Chinese philosophy, by contrast with Western thinking, has from the start emphasised immanence and unity. Where Western dualism led to an opposition between man and nature, Chinese monism stresses the harmony between the two. Most Chinese philosophers share this unique view no matter how different their views on other issues may be. (Source: chinaculture.org.)
  • 4 A total of 52% of local people I interviewed had lived in Hangzhou for less than five years, and many of this group of people defined themselves as ‘New Hangzhou Citizens.’
  • 5 From my interviews with local residents, there would seem to be corruption problems involved with getting the authority to use a ‘qualified’ construction company.
  • 6 The most popular social networking service in China, similar to Twitter.
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