Exploring place: how independent tourism is changing the politics of geographic knowledge in China


Travis Klingberg

PhD defended at: 

University of Colorado at Boulder



Since its resurgence in the early 1990s, domestic tourism in China has increasingly taken the form of self-organized leisure travel between urban and rural or remote areas. From suburban day trips in private cars to extended backpack travel across western China, independent tourism has become entangled with place, with new desires for cultural and natural destinations, new placemaking projects, and new kinds of tourist experiences in the city and countryside. This dissertation approaches these changes as a national turn to exploring place, a dialectical relationship between the production of tourist places that encourage commodified forms of exploration, and new desires for experiencing place through practical, bodily encounters. This dissertation argues that through exploring place, China's independent tourists have become engaged in a new politics of geographic knowledge production that is vital in sustaining the national geo-body. As more Chinese have traveled to more parts of the country than ever before, the production of geographic knowledge has expanded from a state and elite project to one that includes the knowledge practices of ordinary Chinese. The state has employed tourism as part of a territorial project of governance, and Chinese tourists themselves have generated new knowledge of place that, while it may not directly confront the state, can expose gaps and discontinuities in the dominant order. This dissertation is an ethnographic field study based in Sichuan Province -- in the urban and periurban landscapes of the provincial capital (Chengdu); in the rural, natural landscape of a remote, protected area (Yading Nature Reserve); and in tourist encounters that are at the center of exploring place in China.