BLOG: To Stay or Migrate? Preferences and Occupational Choice in China’s Rural Ethnic Tourism Industry

By Virginia Zhang, New York University

Though rural workers in China now have more opportunities for rural-urban migration, they still face uncertainties in urban labor markets. For many rural Chinese ethnic minority workers, jobs in the growing domestic ethnic tourism industry provide comparable, even preferable alternatives to migrant labor. This study interviews Miao ethnic minority villagers in Guizhou Province to understand the factors behind their decision to work in their local ethnic tourism industry or to migrate for urban work. It then investigates the channels through which the industry’s growth affects the villagers’ economic stability, lifestyles, and cultural identity. Lastly, it advocates for a deeper understanding of rural workers’ preferences across developing contexts, in order to design targeted solutions for reducing rural poverty and rural-urban inequality.

 

1. Introduction

In recent decades, rapid urbanization in developing countries across the world has drawn masses of rural workers to migrate to urban regions for economic opportunities. For many of these workers and their households, rural-urban migration is their best chance for escaping poverty and achieving social mobility. However, a host of factors present uncertainties to internal migration: rising urban labor market competition and unemployment, difficult access to housing and services, social disintegration, and separation of families. Many governments, think tanks, and development scholars are working to adapt urban policies to address these growing issues. But in addition to strengthening urban policy, what else can be done to improve the welfare of these rural workers?

This paper presents a case study of the Chinese government’s investment in the domestic rural ethnic tourism industry, and investigates why it is able to provide many rural ethnic minority workers with an economically viable and socially attractive alternative to migrant labor. It does this by studying rural Miao ethnic minority workers’ occupational choice once their economic opportunities are no longer limited to rural-urban migration. Core data come from interviews with Miao ethnic minority people in rural villages in Guizhou Province who are exposed to ethnic tourism. This study finds that for these Miao workers, social and cultural factors (e.g. networks, lifestyle preferences) are often just as important as economic factors (e.g. income) in their decision-making. These findings present a case for policymakers to explore innovative policy solutions to rural-urban inequality that leverage the distinctive characteristics and preferences of rural workers.

2. Background

2.1 The “Urban Strategy” for Development: Successes and Limitations

Current international development discourse focuses heavily on building sustainable cities. Development agencies like the UN, IOM, as well as new initiatives like the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities and the World Bank’s Global Platform for Sustainable Cities call for comprehensive improvements in urban planning. Recent development literature provides evidence on economic benefits of out-migration to rural households across developing contexts, and argues for extending migration opportunities as a key path towards poverty reduction (Beegle et al. 2011; Bryan et al. 2014; Lokshin et al. 2010).

China’s main strategy for economic development follows this urbanization paradigm. That is, designing policies to bolster its cities and encourage rural-to-urban migration: “Build it and they will come” (Bai et al. 2014). Since 1980, China has established 6 special economic zones (SEZs) and 14 open coastal cities, mostly in the southeast, with policies like tax and business incentives and open trade to attract foreign investment, infrastructure development, and labor. In 2014, China lowered restrictions on the national household registration system (“hukou”) to enable 100 million migrant workers to change their local citizenship from their rural hometown to a city (Farrar, 2016). These reforms, along with the establishment of urban contract wage systems and a growing demand for urban employment, have opened up further economic opportunities to rural workers. However, these policies have limitations. Labor surplus has pushed down urban wages to the point where over half of China’s rural migrants can only find work in the informal sector, facing unstable wages and limited access to resources (Seeborg et al. 2000; Zhang, 2016). Even if rural workers do achieve financial stability for themselves and their households through migration, they still encounter social challenges, like separation from families, lifestyle changes, and discrimination.

2.2 The “Rural Strategy”: Potential for Targeted Opportunities

While this type of “urban strategy” creates economic incentives to pull rural workers to cities, an alternative strategy gives some of them option to stay in their hometowns. Unlike the urban strategy, which directs economic policies to existing and emerging cities, the “rural strategy” works to improve the local economies in rural villages. Since the 1990s and 2000s, the Chinese government has made significant investments in its rural strategy by expanding the domestic ethnic tourism industry, in the forms of infrastructure, subsidies, and marketing. What distinguishes the Chinese ethnic tourism industry from most “rural strategies” in developing countries (e.g. agricultural assistance, expansion of manufacturing industries to rural villages) is that it is built around the distinctive characteristics of its workers, namely their cultural identity.

2.3 The Miao, and China’s Ethnic Tourism Industry

Since 1954, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has officially recognized 55 ethnic minority groups that make up about 9% of the Chinese population, along with the majority “Han” ethnic group. These ethnic groups, or “minzu”, are pluralistic in geography, language, religion, economy, and social structure, both between and within each other. The Chinese ethnic tourism industry brings Han (and occasionally international) tourists to rural ethnic minority villages to experience distinctive lifestyles and traditions. The Miao is one of China’s 55 minority minzu, heavily concentrated in China’s southwest, where domestic ethnic tourism is most developed.

2.4 The CPC and Minzu Recognition

The Chinese national government has a strong track record of issuing policies to reinforce minority minzu’s ethnic identity. Since its establishment in 1921, the CPC has operated under the principle of recognizing the “right of national minorities to self-determination” (Mullaney and Anderson, 2011). In 1954, the CPC devised an official minzu taxonomy based on common geography, language, economic production, and culture. It then established autonomous regions for places with high minority minzu populations, and promised them political representation. In addition to these structural policies, the CPC has also made significant efforts to publicize minzu culture. Since the 1980s, the state has produced national TV programs, including the annual CCTV New Year’s Gala, that celebrate minzu diversity. State Premier Li Keqiang recently spoke to the National People’s Congress of protecting minority minzu culture and upholding regional autonomy (Li, 2017). National and provincial governments advocate for ethnic tourism as a solution to both rural development and preservation of minority minzu culture.

2.5 Scaling Up China’s Rural Strategy

Since 1953, the CPC has issued 13 Five-Year Plans to set targets and guidelines for China’s social and economic development. One component of the CPC’s 13th Five-Year Plan, which sets targets and guidelines for China’s social and economic development, is the Tourism Industry Development Plan. Article VII outlines plans for comprehensive development of selected ethnic tourism sites across China, from building transportation infrastructure via public-private partnerships to promoting distinctive minzu culture and publicizing tourism sites (The State Council, 2016). The ambitious plan proposes to scale industry investment to 3 billion RMB in 2020 (a 14% increase from 2015) and total industry revenue to 7 billion RMB (a 11% increase from 2015). Article IX Section VIII lists Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture in Guizhou Province, where the villages visited for this study are located, as a major tourism destination.

From the perspective of the rural workers themselves, does this “rural strategy” really provide comparable economic opportunities to migrant labor? Why might it be more or less attractive? Do they agree with the government on its positive impacts on rural development and cultural preservation?

3. Approach

3.1 Research Question

This study asks: Q1. What are the major factors that determine a rural ethnic minority villager’s decision to work in the local ethnic tourism industry, rather than migrate for urban work? How do industry features differ between rural ethnic tourism and the urban work that these people would expect from migrating? Do they expect better economic outcomes and satisfaction from working in tourism or migrating?

Villages involved in tourism become more commercialized as the industry expands. The study considers this trend as a moderating factor that influences the workers’ decision-making through creating tangible changes in their villages: Q2. How does the commercialization of villages under ethnic tourism influence a Miao villager’s occupational choice? How is commercialization related to industry growth, and what changes does it create in a participating village? Through what mechanisms could it make rural workers more or less willing to work in tourism rather than pursue migrant labor?

3.2 Methodology

I spend a month of summer 2017 in Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture, Guizhou Province, where the Miao are the most populous ethnic minority group. I limit data collection to this region in order to minimize cultural or geographical differences that might influence decision-making. I visit six rural Miao villages across the prefecture with different levels of access to public transportation and participation in the ethnic tourism industry. Some are along major bus routes, some are in the remote mountains; some receive hundreds of thousands of Han tourists per year, some only receive the occasional individual backpacker. Main data come from semi-structured interviews with a sample of 15 Miao adults on why they work (or would prefer to work) in tourism or urban sectors, and their decision-making process. Interviews are translated from Mandarin. Though some respondents do not work in tourism, all are exposed to the industry through their locations and networks. The interviews are supplemented by ethnography,participant observation of tourism activities, and content analyses of tourism advertisements.

4. Results

4.1 Major Deciding Factors

The interviews show that rural villagers weigh the costs and benefits of tourism work over migrant labor based on a mix of economic, social, and cultural factors. All but one consider a mix of two or more factors. For some, cultural and social factors matter more than economic factors.

Miao in Tourism: Significant Cultural Factors

Tourism work is especially attractive to those with strong ethnic identity, because it allows them to stay in touch with their traditions, and share them with outsiders. Additionally, tourism workers do not face the discrimination and social disintegration that they might as a minority migrant worker in a large city.

Xia studies commerce at a local university, and works part-time at the embroidery gift shop in Miaomei Intangible Cultural Heritage Museum (a Miao culture museum in rural Qiandongnan). She is a daughter of a Han father and Miao mother, and identifies as Miao. (Chinese citizens can only identify as one minzu.) For her, working at Miaomei is a way to get practical work experience while learning more about Miao culture.

I’m Miao, but not many people in my hometown are. It’s only my family there who’s Miao. The other [villagers] can’t speak [my Miao language]. I can only speak a little, and don’t have a great understanding of Miao culture. So, I wish to come here to learn about it on a deeper level.

She explains that if she had taken a sales jobs in a large city, she would not have been able to learn about all the Miao subgroups or practice traditional embroidery.

Zhao is a middle-aged woman who manages a traditional Miao silver jewelry shop with her husband in Xiasi, one of the most popular Miao tourism sites in Guizhou Province. She is enthusiastic about sharing Miao traditions with outsiders through the tourism industry.

These pendants symbolize the drums you might see in many Miao villages…during our festivals: Guzang Holiday, Miao New Year…There are tourists from all over the country. We recently had a group from Beijing come to shoot some movie. All the actresses wanted these [embroidered] peacock pendants and silver jewelry…They loved them so much so they did a mass order, and we shipped a lot of jewelry to Beijing for them and their friends.

Zhao supplies her jewelry from Miao people from Xiasi and nearby villages. She explains that as more Miao villagers migrate out to cities for work, it is becoming harder to pass silverwork and embroidery onto younger generations. She is hopeful that tourism will keep generating interest in these Miao traditions and encourage their continuance.

Yang, a young woman, owns a souvenir stand in Xijiang. There is a cluster of similar stands next to hers, all operated by locals, selling embroidered jewelry, handbags, and dolls dressed in traditional costumes. Like Zhao, Yang sees tourism industry a means to interact with Han tourists and encourage a better understanding of her culture.

We [Miao people] been making these handicrafts for hundreds of years…You’ll see a lot of black colors on [my souvenirs]. Black is a lucky color for the Miao. Not many people know that…The most spectacular time is the Miao Guzang Holiday, in November once every 13 years. We do so many things here during that holiday that you may never otherwise see us do. Bring out large drums, sing and dance by the river, slaughter pigs and share meals. I try to tell all the visitors these things.

Wu also shares this enthusiasm about promoting her culture to outsiders. She is a young woman from a nearby Miao village who works full-time at a silver jewelry shop in Xijiang. She sometimes stays overnight in the tourists’ “guesthouses” in Xijiang after a long workday. (Guesthouses in the most popular tourism sites are typically managed by Han people, who rent pre-existing houses from Miao locals. Managers may create websites to advertise their guesthouses. In Xijiang, there are dozens of guesthouses, and business is competitive.) She explains that with rapid modernization and urbanization, fewer Miao are able to learn about minzu history.

Knowledge about Miao history? I don’t have much of it. We can’t really learn this from the elderly now. It’s modernization…Some [young Miao people] will become tour guides, and go through training to learn about it. But typically, [young Miao] people like me understand little now.

Despite having limited knowledge of other aspects of Miao history, Wu’s work gives her an opportunity to stay in touch with her family traditions in the face of modernization.

[My and my coworkers’] families are all silversmiths. This is our trade. [Han] outsiders and people in cities typically don’t open these silver jewelry shops, because only we, ethnic minority people, know how to make this silver jewelry. I want to help sell our work.

Wen, an elderly man from Jidao village. He is proud of his ethnic identity, and sees ethnic tourism as a platform to promote traditional crafts, as well as contemporary Miao artists like himself.

I feel that all people should come to Guizhou and spread our minzu culture. Our minzu culture should be internationally known…I smith silver jewelry inspired by the planets, the sun and moon. The circular shape is like the [drum] symbols on traditional Miao pendants. I had an exhibition at Xijiang before. The [tourists] could press one button on their cell phones and instantly share [my work] with anyone.

Miao in Tourism: Significant Social Factors

Another advantage rural tourism has over migrant labor is the easy commute between work and home, or even the ability to work in one’s hometown. This is especially important for those with young children, or those planning to start a family.

Zhao chooses to work in Xiasi’s tourism industry, based on social as well as cultural factors. Every day, she and her husband take the bus to work from their home in a nearby Miao village.

A lot of young people [from my village] go out to do migrant work. I decided to stay around, and come [to Xiasi] and do tourism work in 2016. I have a son. He was only 5 then. I have to take him to school. There isn’t a school in our village, so the children there have to walk 30 minutes to the closest school in another village. It’s not safe. [My husband and I] have to look out for him. So, we stayed around here and found work in tourism.

Similarly, Yang is able to work in Xijiang and take care of her infant son, whom she plans to send to Xijiang’s elementary school.

Chen, a young man, recently returned to his hometown in Langde village after graduating from college. Here he works as a guard, collecting tourists’ entrance tickets to the village and helping them with directions. He just married a woman from a nearby Miao village. He plans to stay in Langde, and expects that his job here will support his growing family.

Other reasons Miao villagers may choose tourism over migrant labor are the social benefits of working an in-network job, and greater chances of employment.

Although Wu has always been passionate about her promoting Miao culture to Han tourists, it was her social networks that gave her entry to the ethnic tourism industry: a friend from her hometown invited her to work in one of his silver jewelry shops in Xijiang. For her, being close to home and family is an important social benefit to tourism has over migrant labor.

The [shop] manager is from the same village as me. And work here is closer to home [than work in the cities]. When the workday ends, we can go home as we please. Some have children – they can return to take care of their children. So, not as many people [from my village] want to go outside [the province to cities] for work now.

Miao in Tourism: Significant Economic Factors

Respondents tend to expect more stability and better working conditions from tourism work than migrant labor. This is especially true for those who have pursued migrant labor in the past, and experienced low and volatile wages and employment uncertainty due to structural effects.

Wu chose to pursue a career in tourism after experiencing both tourism and migrant labor. She found from previous experience that urban labor markets have grown more competitive, and migrant workers like her, without college degrees, can expect even lower wages. She has found more stable employment and income in ethnic tourism, especially with her strong networks.

Now, migrating outside [Guizhou province] to find work won’t give you such good income. The income [I used to earn there] is similar my income working here [in Xijiang]. Since tourism developed more [here in Xijiang in 2008], I haven’t gone outside [for work].

Chen explains why many young adults in Langde leave the province to pursue careers in larger cities.

The migrant laborers [from rural Miao villages around Qiandongnan] usually go outside the province, not to Guiyang (Guizhou’s provincial capital). The income level in Guiyang is too low, and can’t compete with income levels outside the province. You don’t see a lot of young people here in Langde because they all leave to find work.

However, for him, Langde’s status as one of Guizhou’s officially recognized Miao tourism sites means that working there is a legitimate alternative to an urban career. Being a native of Langde also helps reduce competition and ensure job security, which is especially beneficial to him as a recent graduate.

After I graduated from Guiyang University of Technology, I didn’t need to go look for work outside the province. I’m always proud to say that for the [2008 Beijing] Olympics, the torch was passed through [Langde].

Qi, another young man, recently earned a college degree in sports management from a provincial university, and returned to his home in Xiasi to work in ethnic tourism. Unlike all other Miao respondents working in tourism, he does not have such strong ethnic identity, and has no significant social networks in the industry. While people like Chen intend to settle into a long-term career in tourism, Qi views tourism as a stable but temporary job. He opened a Miao costume rental shop a year ago, and plans to work there until he finds work in a large city, preferably outside Guizhou.

4.2 Commercialization as a Moderating Factor

Interviews and observations show that as the ethnic tourism industry becomes more developed, participating rural villages become more commercialized. In this study, commercialization refers to three components of the rural ethnic tourism industry’s growth. The following aspects and indicators are based on the fieldwork for this particular study.

This study investigates commercialization because it indirectly impacts the Miao villagers’ occupational choice through strengthening or weakening economic and cultural incentives to work in tourism. Increased commercialization has two effects on a rural worker’s occupational choice. On one hand, commercialization strengthens economic factors behind working in tourism by sizing up the industry, improving rural infrastructure, and ensuring multiple sources of (relatively) stable income for Miao workers. On the other hand, it weakens cultural factors by interfering with traditional rural lifestyles and presenting Miao material culture in a simplified, stereotypical manner. Since respondents consider a mix of factors in their decision-making process, the overall relationship between commercialization and any particular villager’s incentive to work in tourism rather than migrant labor is ambiguous. The relationship depends on each individual’s preferences: if they value economic or cultural factors more.

Commercialization’s Economic Benefits

The following cases illustrate several ways commercialization of ethnic tourism strengthens economic factors through positive impacts on rural economic conditions.

BOX 1. INTERVIEW: COMMERCIALIZATION’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO RURAL DEVELOPMENT

Ma is a Miao man in his 30s, born and raised in Xijiang. His village officially open up for tourism as the result of the Third Guizhou Tourism Sector Development Conference in 2008. In 2008, he quit migrant labor and opened three shops in Xijiang, which sell locally grown foods.

Ma reflects on the transformations that the 2008 Conference brought to his village. He is appreciative of the provincial government’s initiatives to commercialize Xijiang’s tourism, as they have opened new pathways to local poverty reduction.

I remember that before ’08, none of these shops existed. Only 9, 10 years ago. The road you saw where the bus drove you into this village – it was all dirt and mud. None of these roads were paved, and entire rows of houses hadn’t been built. Before opening up for tourism in 2008, this village was terribly poor, desperately poor…The government saw our natural resources, beautiful landscape, and culture, and decided it was marketable.

These transformations have also benefited Ma’s individual career.

[Xijiang’s] tourism company advertises well, so I can rely on steady business…The government subsidizes [Miao villagers] if we work in tourism. Each household [in Xijiang] only gets about 1400 yuan [220USD] or so a year. But it helped me choose to quit migrant labor…I did migrant labor from 2004-08 in Guangdong, Zhejiang, many cities. I worked the tough jobs. People like me who aren’t [highly] educated – how could we get the better, safer jobs? Back then work was unstable. It was tiring – working so hard for little pay, worrying about being laid off. Imagine running around all the southern provinces, between home and work. In 2008 Xijiang opened up for tourism and I thought, why not be my own boss? The income from selling the snacks [to tourists] here is only a little higher than the income from [migrant labor], but it’s much more relaxing, and I can stay close to home.

Ma is optimistic about commercialization’s economic benefits. He mentions one of several policy initiatives to increase local take-up of tourism work: a small annual subsidy provided by the provincial government to rural ethnic minority families who work in tourism. Households can also lease their houses to outside companies, which transform the properties into guesthouses for tourists. In this sense, commercialization allows tourism workers to enjoy multiple sources of income.

Similarly to Ma, Yang gives credit to industry subsidies for steady business for herself and others who sell souvenirs in Xijiang.

BOX 2. ETHNOGRAPHY: COMMERCIALIZATION, MARKETING, AND INFRASTRUCTURE

Xiasi, the village where Zhao and Qi work, has only officially been open for tourism since 2014. Yet it already receives over 500,000 tourists and generates 30 million RMB [about 4.7 million USD] in industry revenue per year. A state-owned company, Guizhou Kaili Xiasi Qingjiang Tourism Development Co. Ltd., was established in 2016 to promote the site.

Every summer, the company invests in billboards in and around Kaili, a major city in Qiandongnan Prefecture, to advertise its annual dragon-boat festival. The 2017 billboards wrote: “2017 Colorful Guizhou: Kaili International Dragon Boat Invitational Competition”. The festival attracts thousands of tourists and media publicity every year, contributing to industry revenue.

The company is also renovating old houses in Xiasi to expand the tourism site, as only half of the village has been developed for tourism. Walking through Xiasi, one eventually comes to a point where guesthouses, restaurants, and souvenir shops disappear, and traditional architecture turns into concrete houses being knocked down or renovated. Commercialization of ethnic tourism contributes to rural economic conditions by updating old infrastructure, thus improving working conditions in tourism and living conditions in the villages.

  

Commercialization’s Cultural Disincentives

Despite commercialization’s contributions to local poverty reduction, some Miao villagers criticize its impacts on traditional lifestyles. Some respondents find ways to work in ethnic tourism while resisting commercialization, by selling locally sourced and handmade products, educating tourists about Miao traditions, and working in villages with less Han business presence.

Zhao and Wu take pride in exclusively selling silver jewelry that is handmade by local Miao villagers. Zhao’s ideal for the industry is one that empowers ethnic minority villagers to promote authentically handmade handicrafts.

These pieces are made by some silversmiths in Xiasi [and] this is embroidered by the “绣娘” [Miao women who are skilled in embroidery, typically elderly women] in my village…[My husband and I] buy the silver and embroidery from [them] and give them some of our profits.

Despite Xijiang’s heavy commercialization, every piece of jewelry in Wu’s shop is handmade and unique, and all the staff there are from Miao silversmith families.

These silver jewelry shops around [Xijiang] are owned by locals, because only we know how to make silver jewelry. There are shops behind this street that sell ox horns and other gifts. They’re all [owned by Han] outsiders. They don’t know how to work silver. They have their own specialties, like their dyed fabrics. But we have our own method of dyeing fabrics. You can see this clearly.

Xia chooses to work at the Miaomei Intangible Cultural Heritage Museum rather than a heavily commercialized site like Xijiang or Xiasi. For her, the museum serves as an immersive environment where she can practice traditional crafts like embroidery and fabric dyeing, and educate tourists about these crafts.

Chen is relieved that Langde has not become as commercialized as other sites like Xijiang. He mentions that Langde does sell entrance tickets at 30 RMB. [About 4.75 USD] However, all its guesthouses and traditional handicraft shops are owned by local households rather than Han outsiders or companies. It is important for him to maintain a stable career and without sacrificing his lifestyle.

But for others who value cultural factors more, the cultural disincentives are strong enough to discourage them from working in the industry completely. As a village becomes commercialized, tourists face an overwhelming number of tourism activities to choose from. These activities become increasingly profit-oriented and regulated (e.g. entrance tickets, mandatory trolley rides, Han outsiders opening shops and village guesthouses). Thus, tourists become less aware of and able to experience authentic Miao lifestyles. In heavily commercialized sites like Xijiang, outside companies try to imitate hospitality with village guesthouses, with the primary goal of generating profit. The presence of mass-produced, machine-made handicrafts diverts tourists’ attention away from locally handmade counterparts.

Wang is a middle-aged woman who lives in Zhanliu, who chooses not to work in tourism. Zhanliu is the smallest Miao village visited in this study, with only about 100 households. It is also the most remote village, separated from highways by a river. Zhanliu is not officially open to tourism, so it only receives small tourism groups and individual backpackers. Wang is eager to build personal connections with her guests through sharing her own embroidery and telling personal stories about life in her village.

We [at Zhanliu] spend our time taking care of our crops and looking after our families…I learned to embroider when I was 8 or 9. I didn’t go to school but my daughters do. They’re at home reading and studying. I haven’t taught them weaving yet. I want them to keep learning at school and then, when they’re a few years older, I will teach them embroidery.

During the interview, Wang pulls out photos of her and some fellow villagers dining with some Australian backpackers who recently visited Zhanliu, wearing handmade embroidery. She explains that this is the type of warm welcome Zhanliu gives its visitors, whether they are Miao or tourists.

Guo is an elderly local woman from Langde. She has never worked in the industry due to concerns about the gradual steps towards Langde’s commercialization, such as the implementation of entrance tickets for tourists in 2017, and the small cluster of stands near the ticketing office selling machine-made handicrafts.

[Since 2016], visitors have had to buy entrance tickets. The [locals] actually don’t agree. [Entrance tickets] were not my decision…The bus ride is long and you pay up to 60, 70 yuan to come to our village. There’s nothing to do about that…Did you see handicrafts at the entrance? [They] are fake. Fake. [Anyways], visitors can stay here [overnight]. If they come all the way then they should stay and rest.

BOX 3. PARTICIPANT OBSERVATION: LIFESTYLES WITHOUT COMMERCIALIZATION

I visit Jidao, a Miao village along the same highway as Langde. Jidao is not officially open for tourism, and it has no tourism company, thus it only receives occasional individual tourists. After some walking on a quiet path I see a local woman, Ming, and greet her. She welcomes me to Jidao and invites me to join her and her household for lunch.

Being invited to a local’s home, meeting the people in the household, sharing a meal, and potentially staying overnight characterize Miao hospitality. This is the experience that Guo and Wang advocate for.

After eating, Ming runs off into another room and returns with two boxes of embroidered robes, jackets, and skirts, and lay them on a couch for me to see. She shows me the different styles of traditional dress, many of which I have never seen in any costume rental shops in other villages. She explains that these were handmade by women in their family over 100 ago, and passed down several generations. She adds, “You don’t see such complexity and skill anymore. Our grandparents used to wear this going outside the village, but we don’t. Only for holidays. But we [still] hand make our clothes [in Jidao]. Only a few pieces we have are machine made, and only partially machine made.” After answering some of my questions about her history, Ming insists I try some pieces on. Hearing the excitement in the room, a man from lunch comes in and jokes with me, “Wouldn’t you love to learn [embroidery]? But you’d need to stay here and learn for half a year, just for the basics!”

Miao hospitality extends beyond eating and staying at a villager’s house. It also includes sharing life stories and household histories. As such, each tourist can have unique experiences of Miao hospitality with each different household and village. This is a characteristic that Han-owned, for-profit guesthouses cannot imitate.

5. Conclusion

In developing countries around the world, an unbalanced concentration of economic opportunities in urban regions gives rural workers (especially low-skill workers) little choice but to migrate to cities in pursuit of social mobility. In the recent years, policymakers and researchers have made significant advancements in designing sustainable urban policy to ease internal migration and build more inclusive cities. However, there is still much progress to be made to solve structural issues like urban unemployment, informality, unequal access to resources, and social disintegration.

This particular study finds that for many rural Chinese ethnic minority workers, it is important to achieve a stable career without sacrificing their cultural identity and lifestyles, or being separated from their communities. Generally, China’s ethnic tourism industry illustrates a successful example of a “rural strategy”, as it extends stable and satisfying economic opportunities to a target population, as well as contributes to local poverty reduction, and addresses some social challenges for rural ethnic minority workers. However, there is growing concern among ethnic minority villagers about commercialization’s interference with traditional lifestyles, which weakens one of the major advantages tourism has over migrant labor. Because this study is small-scale, its findings cannot explain the occupational choice of rural workers across all developing contexts. But a similar approach can be taken to identify the distinctive characteristics, preferences, and skillsets of any group of workers, which can be used to design targeted economic opportunities that maximize take-up.

As policymakers and researchers continue adapting urban policy, they should also explore ways that provide more diverse economic opportunities for rural workers beyond migrant labor. From the perspectives of low-skilled rural workers, having more than one viable career option allows them more freedom to choose one that is most satisfying for them. From a policy perspective, a greater mix of “urban strategy” and “rural strategy” could potentially relieve some forms of urban inequality and stimulate rural development.

 

 

Appendix

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