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Name: China Folk Culture Villages, Shenzhen, Guangdong, China

The Disneyland of Chinese Ethnic Culture 

The China Folk Culture Villages theme park is a Disneyfied version of China's diverse ethnic heritage.  In an excellent article entitled "China: Tourism Development and Cultural Policies," Trevor H.B. Sofield and Fung Mei Sarah Li give some background on the park not available to the average tourist:

The China Folk Culture Villages covers an area of 2.38 square kilometres and opened in August 1991 to present the architecture, folk arts (music, dancing, craft work) and culture of 23 of the ethnic minorities. It contains features such as houses and other buildings of the Bouyei people, the Dong, the Jingpo, the Miao, the Yao, the Yi, and the Zhuang minorities, a Tibetan house and lamasery, yurts from Inner Mongolia and Kazakstan, the Tuija over-water market of Xianju, Buddhist pagodas from Nanfeng and the Dai autonomous region, a mosque from Uighur, and many other attractions. In its first full year of operations, 1992, almost 4.3 million visitors (of whom 790,000 were from overseas and Hong Kong) toured the park (China Travel International Investment Ltd Prospectus 1993).

Several of the dwellings have been transported from their original sites and re-erected, authentic in origin but now of course located in a composite village of 23 other nationalities rather than in their original homogenous cultural setting. Other buildings are replicas which closely follow traditional architecture, construction methods and materials such as the Uighur house and the thatched-roofed Hani compound. Artefacts within the buildings are usually the genuine (authentic) article and are positioned as they would be in their source home; but they may be displayed under neon lights with a waterproof concrete floor underfoot - such as the fittings and floor coverings inside the camel-felt yurt of the nomadic Kazaks.

The 'actors' in the Folk Culture Villages theme park are all of the appropriate ethnicity. An important criterion for selection is that they should not have been out of their villages before being employed in Shenzhen, in order to portray authentic behaviour unpolluted by external influences. They demonstrate traditional skills such as the manufacture of artefacts according to traditional methods utilising traditional materials, sing traditional songs in their own languages, play a wide range of traditional musical instruments, dance and present other aspects of folklore (camel riding, acrobatics, cooking local dishes, and so on). These, according to the management, "faithfully portray the life, customs and conditions of different nationalities in the villages" (Shenzhen Splendid China Development Ltd Report 1994). However, all the actors are aged from 18-25 years, and may be described as vibrant and beautiful. Middle-aged and elderly people are conspicuous by their absence. Some of the activities (eg. dances and ceremonies) have been modified for presentation to tourists, most obviously in the evening Grand Parade involving all of the ethnic minorities, so that much of the original form and meaning is lost. It is also assumed that the craft and other skills accumulated through years of practice are absent in most of the young people. The quality of the presentations must therefore be interpreted in this context as well as whether any trivialization has occurred. The end result is a mix of the authentic and the artificial.

The article continues with an excellent, thoughtful consideration of how "authentic" such exhibits can be, in terms of post-modern concepts of tourism and Umberto Eco's famous reflections on "hyperrealism."  It also considers the role of such a park in China's political philosophy.  I encourage you to read at least the "Heritage Theme Parks, Shenzhen" section of the article; but the whole piece is worthwhile for those of us who travel in China.

You can also read about some fun my buddy Justin and I had in this blog entry.

Getting there: The China Folk Culture Villages and Splendid China Park are located on Shennan Boulevard in Overseas Chinese Town in the center of Shenzhen.  They are well-served by bus and taxi.
Located near:  Splendid China (same 120RMB admission fee as China Folk Culture Villages), Window of the World, and Happy Valley theme parks.  See the "Lamasery" within the China Folk Culture Villages.
About the photos:  All photos on this page are copyright 2005 by James Baquet


click photo to enlarge

These photos are just a hint of the many wonders to be seen at the China Folk Culture Villages.  There is little description here; I hope that, someday, I'll buy the year's pass (300RMB) and spend more time "studying" the place.

Folk Altars

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The Equestrian Show
Genghis Khan rides again! 

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The Variety Show

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