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Opinion Article26 October 2016

Rural Tourism and Quality of Life in US and China - Part 4

Proposal for Rural Tourism Development in China

By Shangzhi Charles Qiu, Research Assistant at the Purdue Tourism & Hospitality Research Center

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Improving Subjective Well-being of Chinese Rural Residents


The most recent Chinese literature about rural resident's subjective well-being focused on the population of children and senior residents (e.g., Han, 2016; Kuang et al., 2016). These two groups received particular attention because the current urbanization progress in China pushes large numbers of young labor away from their rural hometowns to work, many of them are parents. These young parents often moved to a remote city so that they have to live in where they work. But the children and senior people are left in the rural places. Some senior people continue doing farming and some stop working. Many of them are facing serious health problems. Children are left because they have to go to schools in villages. Studies showed that the major factors that negatively affect the subjective well-being of these two groups are lack of social support, alienation from family members, low quality of material life and unstable income (Han, 2016; Kuang et al., 2016). For senior people, health condition and access to health care service are also critical factors (Han, 2016). For children social support is a strong predictor of subjective well-being (Ni et al., 2016). Moreover, a study conducted by Chueng (2016) found that wealth inequality in rural China actually increases resident's subjective well-being because the fact that their neighbors become richer gives them the prospect of richer life in the future. He explained that because of close interpersonal relationships in rural areas, successful people become the models of other people, motivating them to pursue a better life.

Therefore, in order to improve rural residents' subjective well-being, tourism development in rural China should not just focus on the goal of poverty alleviation, but also pay attention to the quality of family life, neighborhood relationships and public services such as education, healthcare and recreation facilities. Investment should be able to create employment with attractive salary and personal development opportunities in order to attract young labors back to their hometowns. In addition, improvement of housing condition, public facilities and infrastructure is needed to improve the residential environment. Improvement of education and healthcare service not only directly improves subjective well-being of senior people and children, but also makes young people more willing to work and live at rural areas so that their parents and children can get stronger social support. After some people receive benefit from working in rural areas, other people will see the prospects of their hometown and be motivated to follow the steps of the pioneers.

Moreover, enhancing community pride is another critical factor to maintain local talents. Su (2011) mentioned that China's rurality has been stigmatized with poverty, ignorance, insanitation, underdevelopment, backwardness, barbarism, and stupidity. It is difficult for rural residents to be proud of being part of the rural community if this stigma persists. Many people in rural areas today still associate rural life with low QOL and urban life with high QOL. Young people who stay at rural hometown are regarded as not competent, only those who are able to earn a decent life at big cities are appreciated. Therefore, changing this stigma is fundamental to improvement of subjective well-being of rural residents in developing tourism. Nevertheless, achieving the above goals is never easy.

Zhu (2016) proposed a future mode of rural tourism development "rural life-tourism integration" which I believe is helpful for achieving these goals. "Rural life-tourism integration" is a vision of high quality rural life that benefits the subjective well-being of both local residents and tourists from urban areas. Zhu (2016) claimed that China's rural tourism has evolved from "Nong Jia Le" to traditional village tourism to rural resort vacation. The coming stage will be "rural life-tourism integration", in which rural residents regard rurality as an important asset and be proud of it while urban residents regard rural life as a secondary routine. Tourists are not just short time visitors but form an attachment to the destinations or rural life in general. That is, tourism and living are integrated.

This mode of rural tourism requires incorporating modern lifestyle, recreation fashion and aesthetics into rural leisure activities. The core attractiveness of rural life is the emotional attachment among people, religious buildings, history, mountains, rivers, forest, farmland, neighborhood and local rituals. The enjoyable rural life will attract artists, writers and even general urban residents to work and live at rural areas, creating more business opportunities and high income jobs for rural communities, sustaining the rural development. Finally, it will become some people's dreamland for family, for career and for leisure.

Zhu (2016) suggested the following approaches of development. First, the lodging facilities especially "Bed & Breakfast" should be built based on local cultural features and should avoid large scale construction. For example, the landscape in a fishing village in Chengsi, Zhoushan, although appears like a mess, exactly manifests of life, work and affection of traditional fishers by virtue of details and designs. This authentic form should be kept and upgraded to improve comfortableness. Second, the villages should have complete industrial system to support high quality rural life in various aspects. These industries usually include modern agriculture, traditional small scale agriculture, traditional handcrafting, local arts, and cultural innovation. Third, development should reflect humanitarian care and social support in details of public facilities, localized service styles, innovativeness, and local rural gastronomy. Construction of attractions and facilities should utilize local materials and local people, should accommodate to local customs and traditional landscape. In summary, rural life and urban life in the future will represent functional division but have equal quality of life. Urbanity represents efficiency and standardization whereas rurality represents spirituality, individuality, and integration between culture and nature.

Li (2016) suggested future modes of rural tourism development that fit the current trend of China domestic tourism. Some of the suggested modes I believe are consistent with the concept of "rural life-tourism integration". For example, villages close to urban areas can develop facilities such as campgrounds, wetland parks, outdoor adventure parks and recreational farms. Anji Village transformed forest and farmlands to cultural gardens, recreational farms and flower farms and hosts festivals based on the agriculture tradition. Another mode is to develop "cultural village" which contains rural culture museums, rural life workshops, artist workshops and lodging facilities that combine rural heritage and modern fashion design. Tourists can immerse in local atmosphere and absorb the stories of the villages. For instance, many villages in Anhui Province preserved the traditional "Hui" style architecture and landscape. This is the basis of developing "cultural village" by utilizing these resources to stage the experience of historical rural life.

Xu (2015) used rural residents' subjective well-being as performance measurement of tourism development in Tibet. She identified that fair distribution of tourism income, community involvement, and infrastructure improvement were the most critical factors of rural residents' subjective well-being when it comes to tourism development. Therefore, I would further suggest that local authorities should direct investment, particularly from tourism income, toward improvement of sanitation, improvement of infrastructure, diversification of economic activities, and improvement of education and recreation facilities. This type of investment not only benefits residents' living environment, but also provides a more comfortable environment for tourists and makes the destination more attractive and competitive. Thus, the destinations will attract richer and better educated tourists who are willing to spend more money for better experiences or even stay and work at the villages. Development of attractions and design of business models should include opinions of local people and pay attention to distribution of income. Local people should be first satisfied with the development process so that they would be satisfied with the outcome of tourism. This is also an important element of "rural life-tourism integration"

Improving the Subjective Well-being of USA Tourists

USA tourist' subjective well-being benefits from satisfied tourism experience. To satisfy the motivation of outbound USA tourists, what China can offer is the experience of contrasting culture and nature, learning about the long history of this country, and an authentic taste of Chinese life, particularly the traditional part. Therefore, rural tourism, especially "Nong Jia Le" can be an interesting way for US tourists to experience the authentic Chinese tradition. And improvement of landscape aesthetics, sanitation, and facilities is necessary to create a comfortable tour for US tourists.

US tourists, as many developed countries that have a long history of outbound tourism, are becoming more sophisticated and experienced. They are more and more demanding for authentic experience rather than staged experience. "Nong Jia Le" tourism that keeps the authentic forms of Chinese traditional rural life will satisfy the need for authentic experience. Usually, outbound leisure tourists fly to Beijing or Shanghai as the first stop of China tourism. And many tour services are organized in these two cities. Numerous "Nong Jia Le" attractions have been operated near Beijing and Shanghai to provide a weekend getaway for residents in these metropolises. Transportation is convenient in these areas to connect the markets with the destinations. Therefore, it is feasible to develop "Nong Jia Le" tourism for US tourists.

"Nong Jia Le" is already an authentic taste of rural life for urban people in China. Hence, the current forms of "Nong Jia Le" can be used in serving the US market. However, although US tourists want to observe authentic life of a different culture, they expect excellent hospitality service to make the tour comfortable. Tourism service is also an important factor of tourists' subjective well-being (Neal, Uysal & Sirgy, 2007). Facilities and sanitation of many "Nong Jia Le" destinations may not meet the standard expected by US tourists. Therefore, for "Nong Jia Le" destinations who want to target US tourists need to invest in improving the facilities. The improvement projects can be co-funded by farmers and tour companies. In order to have scale of economy, I suggest that a tour company choose an area where "Nong Jia Le" attractions are concentrated so that it can organize several tours to the same place and these attractions can share the facilities. Then the company makes agreement with families running these "Nong Jia Le" attractions about the service to US tourists, arrangement and schedule of tours, and cooperation on facility improvement.

Tourists in general perceive that tourism can affect their QOL through the aspects of health, emotional well-being, social relation and knowledge (Genc, 2012). Therefore, Chinese rural tourism can be developed with themes of health tourism, family fun or cultural appreciation tour. In terms of health tourism, the healthy traditional Chinese cuisine can be promoted. Unhealthy diet has become a major concern of the US society. One powerful attraction of US rural tourism is the "farm to table" dining experience that claims to be healthy and delicious. Tasting the traditionally raised animals and organic vegetables is also an important feature of "Nong Jia Le". US tourists can experience the difference between US "farm-to-table" dining and Chinese traditional organic food.

To make the rural tourism an opportunity to appreciate Chinese culture, the rural dining experience can be combined with rich history of Chinese cuisine in presenting to US tourists. Chinese cuisine has been commonly recognized by Chinese people as a critical essence of this nation's history and culture. Thus, Chinese cuisine is a symbol of national pride and cultural authenticity that can be delivered to tourists. Moreover, US tourists can learn the difference between modern organic agriculture in US and traditional organic agriculture in China. This experience can also be promoted as a family fun activity as family members can learn together how to take care of poultry and prepare rural style Chinese food.

Another form of rural cultural tour is the trip to traditional villages. Conservation and tourism development of traditional villages has been extensively discussed by Chinese governments and academics. 994 traditional villages have been included in the government catalog as important national assets for special conservation. Some of them have been developed into tourism attractions. A tour around these traditional villages could be a wonderful cultural appreciation experience for US adults and education for children.

"The idea of this article comes from my PhD qualification examination process. The issue addressed in the article was enlighted by the examination commitee member Dr. Liping Cai."


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Shangzhi Charles Qiu

Shangzhi Qiu is a PhD candidate at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Purdue University. He has worked for the Purdue Tourism & Hospitality Research Center for two years. His researches have been published in several reputable academic journals including "International Journal of Hospitality Management".

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