Gao, Yun, Pitts, Adrian and Gao, Jing (2014) The Role of Ecotourism in the Sustainable Development of Qinkou village, Yunnan, China, 2001 to 2013. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Working Paper Series, 268. pp. 1-25.

This study captures evidence of the changes to Qinkou village during the period it was developed as an example of ecotourism in Yunnan province, Southwest China; a process which began in 2001. By examining the aims of the development projects and changes which happened in the village in 2001, 2006 and 2013 respectively, the paper aims to explore how traditions have been understood and deployed with regard to the built environment in Qinkou. It also investigates the shift in focus of academic research into traditional and sustainable development of rural villages over different periods.

In 2001, a development project was implemented in Qinkou to demonstrate how tourism could be used as a way to modernise the village. The local government of the Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, where the village is located, worked with academics in the fields of architecture, planning and anthropology to develop the plan and to obtain funding to transform Qinkou into an ecotourism village.

By 2006, the infrastructure of the village had been significantly improved. However, many originally planned activities could not be carried out due to the lack of ongoing funding support and effective management. Tourism alone was unable to bring fundamental changes in Qinkou. Instead, many villagers who worked in the cities returned with savings from the higher incomes enjoyed in the cities and also brought back changed lifestyles that contributed further major transformation. At the same time, the village remained a coherent settlement. The head of the village and management group organised many village co-operative activities. Academic research at the time, on the other hand, focused more on the examination of the cultural symbols of the local families and built environment than providing advice to help the village improve living conditions.

In 2013, an application for the spectacular stepped paddy fields in the Prefecture to be listed as a World Heritage Site attracted significant funding from the local government. Qinkou was included in the development master plan; however, the development project for the village focused primarily on the preservation of the traditional forms as cultural symbols. Academic research and local policies discussed needs for sustainable development in order to comply with the requirements of the UNSCO process for World Heritage Site listing. Yet, details of how to achieve social and cultural cohesion remained missing.

This paper argues that tourism development in the market-oriented economy now operating in China has worked as the catalyst for the transformation of the village and improvement of living conditions. However, social-cultural sustainable regeneration of rural settlements must create places for the needs of different groups in the local community. The academic research also needs to reinterpret the traditions that were formed and changed by the local communities in a way that is perhaps more diverse and flexible than the previous academic research defined.

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