China and Inner Asia
University of Southern California, United States
Tourism plays a central role in how perceptions of difference, whether social, cultural, economic or political, can become racialized as absolute difference. In this paper, I examine how ideas about race and racialized difference are intertwined within tourism in contemporary China. My aim is to offer a critical perspective on race and tourism in China that goes beyond and challenges neutral-sounding descriptors such as “culture,” “heritage,” and even “ethnic.” I draw upon examples of tourism development from rural minority regions in Guizhou to the urban cityscapes of Xinjiang in order to interrogate how the Chinese state both deploys and masks racializing ideologies in the name of modernization, civilization, and globalization. Whereas it has become acceptable for culture, heritage, and ethnic identities to be ossified into presentable, consumable forms, whether as food, performance, clothing, or objects, “race” is much more slippery. I argue that this is because the perception of race, and by extension the experience of racialization, demands the recognition of a relation between two (or more) persons but depends upon a belief in, or a desire to believe in, an absolute difference, a clean break as it were, between people. It is this desire for absolute difference that renders it necessary to see tourism as a racializing process, even in the context of the PRC where the language of “race” is not necessarily the dominant discourse of difference.