Tourism in China

This Photo-Essay Won the Human Category of an Internal Year 11 Competition

This is a photo that I took last summer at a section of the Great Wall of China, about an hour away from Beijing. It was an amazing experience to see the wall, an experience packed with history; but, for me, with everywhere being packed full of people, it highlighted a much more modern notion: tourism.

China has never been a nation thought of as being a tourism heavy country. It’s true that the majority of China’s economic growth hasn’t been due to tourism, and tourism hasn’t been the major driving force putting China into its current status of NEE (newly emerging economy). We largely see China as a country built on industrialisation, as most of the possessions that we have, have the small ‘made in China’ sticker on them. But, China is actually the fourth most visited country in the world and it ranked second in the world for travel and tourism’s contribution to GDP in 2014 ($943.1 billion), and first in the world for travel and tourism’s contribution to employment (66,086,000 jobs) in 2014. Tourism, based on direct, indirect, and induced impact, accounted for 9.3 percent of China’s GDP in 2013.

This notion of tourism is something that occurred to me as I travelled around various tourist destinations and saw crowds of people gathered in the Forbidden City, and at the Terracotta Army. You can see on the left-hand side of the wall in the picture above, a handrail – these modernisations have been added to help the tourism industry, an industry that is often forgotten in China. This could be both because it is drowned out by other dominating industries, but also because it was only in the late 1970s that China became open to all countries, and only in the early 1980s when Deng Xiaoping decided to promote tourism vigorously.

The biggest thing that I noticed however was the difference that tourism makes on the poorer people in the country. Everywhere else that I have been in the world, tourism has been dominated by big companies and organisations; each tour that you take is organised by a big company feeding money into their rich pockets. But, what I noticed in China was, whilst, of course, the big organisations such as those that own the wall take a large amount of money away from this, those that are poor in the country make use of the tourism industry by entering into the informal economy. What you can’t really make out from the image above, is the specific people on the wall. Not all of them are, in fact, tourists, some are people on the wall selling bottles of water, or small souvenirs such as models of the wall, to make money for themselves, in their impoverished position. All over China, there are small local schemes, such as farmers taking tourists on wooden rafts which they have built – it really is quite heart-warming to see the local impact that tourism has in China. Tourism acts as a social mobiliser.

(Photo: © Oscar Gibson)

(Featured Image: © Jasper Sodha)