Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/An Assessment of the History and Stakeholders' Involvement in Heritage Tourism in Wuyi Mountain, Fujian, China

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The case study is about Wuyi Mountain, which is located in Wuyi Mountain City, Fujian province, China. Some geographical, natural, historical, religious and cultural information is introduced. This paper covers the development of tourism in Wuyi Mountain since the tenure reforms and opening up of China, beginning in 1978. It also discusses how different stakeholders in Wuyi Mountain participate in and influence the development of tourism. In order to meet the needs of all stakeholders and promote the protection and development of tourism in Wuyi Mountain, the Creative Tea Culture Tourism project is introduced. The Belt and Road Initiative provides an opportunity for the Wuyi Mountain Creative Tea Culture Tourism development.

Background Information

Fujian Province in China

Wuyi Mountain is located in Fujian Province in southeastern China. It was listed as a World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO in October 1999 because of its rich ecosystem diversity, spectacular natural scenery, and rich Chinese culture for thousands of years. It is currently the largest World Heritage Site in China, which contains a total area of the pilot zone of Wuyi Mountain of 982.59 km2. According to the different characteristics of natural resources, Wuyi Mountain can be divided into three parts: West, Middle and East. The biodiversity conservation area in the west has the most complete, most typical and largest sub-tropical old-growth forest ecosystem in the same latitude of the Earth. The Natural and Cultural Landscape Reserve and the Han Dynasty Ancient City Site Protection Area are located in the eastern part of Wuyi Mountain. The combination of alpine scenery and water, the integration of humanity and nature as well as the cultural relics and historic sites form the eastern part of Wuyi Mountain are well-known in China. The central part connects the east and west, which not only preserves the water source of Jiuqu River, but also maintains a good ecological environment. Since Wuyi Mountain is the most magnificent mountain in southeast China and preserves many precious and brilliant ancient sites and relics, it is important for people to trace the history of Wuyi Mountain and feel the connection between the mountain and the historical culture.[1]

History of Wuyi Mountain

The wonders of the natural beauty of Wuyi Mountain developed over time, and human activities interpreted the cultural beauty of Wuyi Mountain. Both of these factors are indispensable to create such a cultural and natural mountain like this. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the area where Wuyi Mountain is located was still a blue sea. After a series of frequent crustal evolutions, the land eventually formed several abyssal faults and down warped zone as well as created various landforms such as an intermontane basin, lake basin and low hills that form the Wuyi Mountain. Moreover, back to the end of the third century, the Wuyi Lake basin began to uplift. During the continuous evolution of the earth’s crust, the risen lake basin formed the main body of the Danxia landform at Wuyi Mountain. Through earth-shaking crustal evolution, Wuyi Mountain was built with its unique natural landform. Because of its superior geographical environment and ecological conditions, the mountain had become a great place for wildlife and biological species to breed and live.[1]

According to archaeological data, Wuyi Mountain attracted people to live here in the Shang Dynasty. “More than 4000 years ago, ancestors in the south part of China started to live here in Wuyi Mountain and developed the Chinese only “ancient Fujian ethnic group” and “Fujian& Vietnam ethnic group” of their own feature”[2]. Researchers found many historical remains of ancient Fujian people in today’s Wuyi Mountain such as their residential buildings, ceramic kilns, and sacrificial sites. They also left multiple excellent cultural relics like the hanging ship coffins which hung over the cliff for over 3,750 years. They are the oldest coffins that have been found in the world, and reflects the unique funeral culture of the ancient Fujian people.

Wuyi Palace

As time went by, war broke out in the Central Plains; some Central Plains people moved to Wuyi Mountain, and they brought in the multiculturalism of the Central Plains. Its outstanding representative is the introduction and development of Taoist and Buddhist religious culture. Religious followers chose to settle down here and built temples and Taoist temples to spread their religion. Wuyi Mountain then became a concentrated place for religious sites. At that time, the folk beliefs and religion of Taoism fairy have been popular in Wuyi Mountain. Therefore, more and more Taoist priests came to Wuyi Mountain. The prosperity of Taoist activities left many cultural relics in Wuyi Mountain. Currently, “Wuyi Palace built between 742 AD and 755 AD is the oldest palace on Wuyi Mountain. This palace was one of the top 6 famous Taoist temples in Song dynasty and generations of emperors worshipped the respectable Wuyijun in this palace”[2]. Furthermore, Buddhism also reached a prosperous situation at that time, leaving several temples there. Other than the Tao and the Buddha’s religious culture gradually developed and having influence on Wuyi Mountain, the Confucian culture as a traditional Chinese thought was also introduced. Famous litterateur like Yewang Gu preached and gave lectures for 13 years, and he spread Confucianism throughout his stay at this mountain. At that point, Wuyi Mountain was not only just a place for people to live, but people also had begun to explore and pursue spiritual civilization, which is highlighted by the rise and development of religious culture.

During the Ming Dynasty, Wuyi tea and tea culture was gradually developing and became the core culture of Wuyi Mountain. At that time, Wuyi Tea not only ranked among the “tribute teas”, but also the tea farmers in Wuyi Mountain developed Wuyi Rock Tea and Lapsang Souchong based on the tea production techniques, which became the cradle of Oolong tea and black tea. Additionally, it played an important role in establishing the tea culture related to Wuyi tea and thus transforming the tea history of China and even the world’s. According to records, almost everyone in Wuyi Mountain planted tea, produced tea, and sold tea to the global market at that time. Wuyi tea culture also led to the British black tea culture, which is of immeasurable value to the history of tea culture in China and worldwide.[1]

Over thousands of years of development, Wuyi Mountain has gradually evolved from a natural mountain to a famous mountain with world influence. In the course of the development of Wuyi Mountain, it has carried so much cultural connotations that led cultural trends in different periods. Currently, Wuyi Mountain has become a World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site, and its value has been recognized by people all over the world. It also represents a prominent example of evolution of biology and the relationship between humans and the natural environment.[1]

Tourism Development in Wuyi Mountain

Wuyi Mountain tourism has been around for a long time. At the beginning of Reform and Opening-up policy, tourism was developed as an industry in the Wuyi Mountain region. In 1978, the local government began to carry out tourism planning for Wuyi Mountain. Furthermore, Wuyi Mountain Scenic Spot was announced by the State Council in 1982 as part of the first batch of key scenic spots in China. At present, the Wuyi Mountain tourism development framework system has been fully integrated, and the tourism industry is mature. The case study will introduce the history of tourism development in Wuyi Mountain from 1979 to the present to understand the changes in development strategies and the participation of different stakeholders. According to Jianping Chen’s research[3], he indicated that the life cycle of the Wuyi Mountain tourism industry can be realized through four specific stages: the start-up stage, the preliminary development stage, the renovation and the brand building stage, and the comprehensive development stage.

In the start-up stage (1978-1986), the local government started to plan tourist areas and developed tourism in Wuyi Mountain while utilizing tourism resources. The focus of tourism resource development was to repair historical sites and to map the scenic spots that were open to the public. In terms of biological resource conservation, specific offices were set up to manage scenic areas and protected areas. They defined areas for protection and restoration area as planned. For example, they seized and reclaimed 7 acres of farmland and planted more than 20,000 strains of camphor, jujube, and bamboo to enrich biodiversity. At this stage, the stakeholders involved in the decision-making were mainly the government and the local communities.[3]

In the preliminary development stage (1987-1994), the tourism development strategy was established, and the core scenic spots were fully constructed under the guidance of the overall planning of the scenic spots area. Compared to the planning that had been done in the previous stage, there were more infrastructure and reception facilities development and construction at this stage, such as airports, railway stations and national tourist resorts. The scenic area strengthened the protection and management of forest resources as well. The range of reserved area had been extended to the upper reaches of the Jiuqu River, and nobody had the right to access the reserve without the permission of the management office in order to prevent logging from local communities and strengthen forest fire prevention. It is worth mentioning that tourism enterprises increased rapidly at this stage, and there was a phenomenon of oversupply in the tourism market, causing intense competition and market chaos. The Ministry of Tourism thus enforced investigation and punishment for illegal activities of tourism enterprises as well as controlling the number of tourism enterprises in the market. At this stage, the voice of tourism enterprises was heard since tourism became the main part of the Wuyi Mountain economic system.[3]

UNESCO World Heritage Wuyi Mountain

In the renovation and the brand building stage (1995-1999), the main focus was to enhance the in-depth development and construction of scenic spots while developing new scenic spots to build an excellent tourist city. In terms of nature reserves, the “China Nature Reserve Management” project was implemented by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in 1995, a funder of projects designed to protect global environment. The project strengthened the scientific research in conservation management and the configuration of equipment needed. At this stage, Wuyi Mountain City had also strengthened the tourism brand building, including the establishment of “China’s Excellent Tourism City” and the declaration of World Heritage. With the success of both brand building activities, Wuyi Mountain was recognized and it has attracted more than 1.93 million visitors in 1999. With the introduction of international organizations and the gradual enhancement of tourists’ power, the relationship between stakeholders in Wuyi Mountain has become more and more complicated.[3]

In the comprehensive development stage (2000-present), the local government aimed at accelerating construction and becoming an international tourist city. They planned to implement the “World Heritage Protection Phase II” project by improving traffic access to and strengthening the management of the scenic area. Due to the implementation of the project, the government adopted closed management of the scenic area. The local communities originally living in Wuyi Mountain were forced to move out and no longer had the right to access natural resources. Their rights were disrupted by government policies. In the development of new product lines, efforts had been made to develop cultural tourism, such as creative tea culture tourism, as a sustainable source of tourism. At the same time, the local government no longer allowed tourism enterprises to develop at will, but reinforced the macro-control of the industrial structure, leading to the optimization of the internal structure of tourism enterprises and enhancement of tourism enterprises services.[3]

Different Stakeholders' Involvement

Liming Liu pointed out that “letting stakeholders express their respective interests in development process will be of significance to the sustainable development of World Heritage site”[4]. Because of its high value, non-renewability, and true integrity, World Heritage cannot be developed extensively like ordinary tourism resources. Handling the relationship between development and conservation requires the understanding, support, and participation of stakeholders in Wuyi Mountain.

Interested Stakeholders

Wuyi Mountain Boatmen

The Wuyi Mountain Municipal Government and the Wuyi Mountain Scenic Area Management Committee incorporate the natural ecology, human ecology and local communities in the heritage site into their jurisdiction. In order to further improve the heritage protection system, the Department of Wuyi Mountain Natural Reserve Management is set up under the Management Committee, responsible for biodiversity conservation, while the committee is responsible for tourism development and economic development. Since the budget provided by the local government to the site is limited, the Management Committee can only rely on the management of heritage tourism to earn income to maintain their daily operations. Therefore, they have an independent pursuit of interests which may be over-reliant on heritage resources, such as building new attractions.[5]

As a World Heritage Site, Wuyi Mountain has rich tourism resources and attracts a large number of tourists to visit every year, bringing huge economic benefits to different stakeholders such as tourism enterprises. Tourism enterprises like restaurants, travel developers, and travel agencies, provide various services for tourists to meet their needs. They hope that the government will give more policy support and local communities can cooperate to create a good tourist environment. In addition, as the main body of market economy operation, the pursuit of profit is the biggest motivation of tourism enterprises. In the process of tourism investment development and management, enterprises may overuse the heritage resources to maximize their own economic interests. Therefore, it is necessary for the government to provide them with appropriate guidance.

Tourists are the main body and foundation of tourism activities. They hope that the government’s management can provide them with a sense of security and the tourism enterprises can provide a nice environment for them to visit with thoughtful services. They also want to know the real life of local communities and their local customs. All they want is to get the best travel experience. However, many tourists do not have good environmental awareness and may lack respect for local traditions and culture. They may not have a sense of observing public order and respecting social morality as well as protecting nature.

Researchers and Students Participated in the Nature Conservation Activities

In the process of tourism development in China, some international non-governmental organizations and other international organizations, such as the World Heritage Committee, Global Environment Facility, and World Wide Fund for Nature have made positive contributions. The involvement of these organizations has greatly promoted the conservation of protected areas in China. In 1998, Wuyi Mountain received a total of US$1,134,400 from the Global Environment Facility for project funding and US$421,600 for domestic support, which has greatly improved the infrastructure transformation and management innovation in protected areas. It has made a positive attempt to develop and promote the coordination of local communities and ecosystem protection.[6]

In recent years, universities and research institutions have successively carried out theoretical research and practical investigations on tourism and related issues in Wuyi Mountain. Many universities have signed an agreement with the Wuyi Mountain Nature Reserve to set the reserve area as a scientific investigation and teaching practice base. Scholars and scientific research institutions provide technical support for protection, and regular monitoring provided by institutions guarantee the sustainable development of heritage site protection. Moreover, hundreds of students participated in the nature conservation activities held by universities in the Wuyi Mountain Nature Reserve to popularize natural science knowledge. These organizations aim to have a positive impact on biodiversity protection and expand their social influence. However, because these organizations are linked to the government and cannot function independently, their impact on heritage protection needs further discussion.[6]

Affected Stakeholders

Local people are the carrier of cultural heritage. These people have the closest relationship with the natural and cultural resources of Wuyi Mountain. Their participation and support are the most important aspects for the success of tourism development. However, the “World Heritage” status for Wuyi Mountain has caused major changes in their lives. The prosperity of heritage tourism plays an important role in the rapid development of economy, but it also triggers a series of conflicts. According to the criteria of the application for World Heritage status, local communities were moved to the outside of Wuyi Mountain, making great contributions to the declaration of World Heritage in Wuyi Mountain. Locals hope that they can bring a more livable environment and economic benefits through the development of tourism, but the interests of the community have not been taken seriously. Although the Wuyi Mountain Scenic Area Management Committee has implemented a series of compensation to local communities such as resettling them on property outside the scenic spots and giving them certain economic compensation, the local communities have lost the right to use the land and they have no priority in working in Wuyi Mountain, which greatly affected their lifestyle. In other words, the limited "voice" of the local communities has been squandered by state power and a global heritage system. However, they are self-representing in the form of “collective resistance” and increasingly influence current heritage protection and management so that other stakeholders can hear their voices. Local communities demand that improving their lives, developing production, and requiring other stakeholders to satisfy their own interests is justified because they originally belonged to this land and depended on the resources of Wuyi Mountain to survive.[7]

Achievement: Creative Tea Culture Tourism

To achieve a balance between stakeholders, the key is to grasp the dynamic process of demand and motivation between them. In order to meet the needs of all stakeholders and promote the protection and development of Wuyi Mountain tourism, the Creative Tea Culture Tourism project is introduced. The cultural and creative tourism has a significant advantage of low energy consumption with high output and has strong cultural and creative integration and penetration capabilities. It guides the development of traditional heritage tourism and enhances the connotation of tourism industry through several principles of “creative first, innovative taste and creative marketing” to promote innovation and structural optimization of heritage tourism.[8]

The Impression Da Hong Pao Show in Wuyi Mountain

Tea culture in Wuyi Mountain is rich in cultural resources with a wide variety of cultural attributes. According to the form of cultural resources, Wuyi Mountain tea cultural resources can be divided into tangible resources such as tea sets, variety of tea and historical sites, as well as intangible resources like tea culture, tea customs, and tea processing. The tea culture reflects the profound connotation and characteristics of Wuyi Mountain. The purpose is to highlight the cultural characteristics of Wuyi Mountain tea, to find out the ethnic cultural resources with human geography and local characteristics, and to integrate cultural resources into development of creative tea culture tourism. In order to transform tourists from sightseeing to leisure tourism, the government is working hard to develop a variety of tourism products based on local natural resources to meet the diverse needs of tourists. One of the most outstanding achievements of Wuyi Mountain tea culture products is the “Impression Da Hong Pao” show directed by the famous director Yimou Zhang.

Through this unique creative propaganda method, Wuyi Mountain creative tea culture tourism project has received extensive attention in China and abroad, which has greatly expanded and extended its brand value and market competitiveness. The sales revenue of the Da Hong Pao performance team was about 360 million yuan, and the total net profit exceeded 100 million yuan. This not only achieved an increase in the income of enterprises and governments, but also promoted the development of related industries. The government also encourages tea farmers to introduce tea culture and tea history when selling tea, rather than just introducing the quality and weight of tea, which can stimulate consumers' emotional reactions and meet the spiritual needs of consumers. The development of Wuyi Mountain creative tea culture tourism should maintain the rational green development of tea culture tourism resources in order to maintain its long-term competitiveness and achieve its long-term sustainable development.[9]

Discussion: Future Development

The Belt and Road Initiative Progress

“In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the launch of both the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, infrastructure development and investment initiatives that would stretch from East Asia to Europe. The project eventually termed the Belt and Road Initiative is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived”[10]. The industrialization of Wuyi Mountain tea culture is still in the exploration stage, and the Belt and Road Initiative provides an opportunity for its development. The internationalization of Wuyi Mountain tea culture can attract more talents to Wuyi Mountain and bring their thoughts to the industrialization of Wuyi Mountain creative tea culture tourism. In addition, the internationalization of Wuyi Mountain tea culture should ensure the rational allocation of resources, standardize government coordination, share development achievements with countries along with the Belt and Road Initiative, so as to solve problems in the development of Wuyi Mountain tea culture industry and realize the balanced development of Wuyi Mountain tea culture industry internationalization. Wuyi Mountain tea culture industry management should improve the marketing system, analyze the consumer market and consumer demand of the countries along with the Belt and Road Initiative, and use the e-commerce platform to expand the market share of Wuyi Mountain tea culture industry in China and abroad. Expanding the industrialization of Wuyi Mountain tea culture resources with an international perspective to ultimately promote the development of its creative economy is the future development opportunity of Wuyi Mountain.[8]


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This conservation resource was created by Jiejing Lin. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.