COMING OFAGE OF THE CHINESE TOURISTS
With the acceleration of economic reform and development, Chinese people’s
freedom to move has simultaneously expanded. There are mainly two factors leading
to this shift. First, China’s GDP and individual incomes have increased considerably
during the last two decades. Rising disposable incomes have triggered higher travel
and leisure expenditure.
Many countries started allowing Chinese visitors to come to their country like the
Philippines, Australia, and starting in 2004, even Europe (france, Italy, Germany).
John Urry’s (2002) ‘tourist gaze’is one of the most powerful analytical concepts in
tourism literature. By making reference to Foucault’s medical gaze, Urry points out
that the tourist gaze is something socially organized and systematized by tourism and
tourism-related institutions, including tourist agencies, TV travel programs, travel
books, advertisement, images that satisfy the quest of tourists for something
extraordinary. Tourists are people who undergo a rite of passage of ‘going away’
(from their mundane everyday life) to somewhere else to collect such (mainly visual)
signs which often fulfil the tourists’anticipation of places, objects, people and travel
itself. Urry is also concerned with the historical transformation of social reproduction
of the tourist gaze, from the high-brow travel culture of the elite class of Europe to the
present working-class mass tourism.
Based upon Urry’s gaze theory, this article analyses the gaze of the Chinese
tourists. But instead of looking into how tourism industry structures such gaze, it
illustrates the ‘modernity urge’of the Chinese gaze intersecting with MacCannell’s
thesis of the quest for authenticity.
So in addition to the tourist gaze, I will also address the gaze of the
host. In Vietnam, probably in many other tourism destinations as well, the hosts
are constantly casting gazes on the tourists. In this article, I purposely position the
host gaze together with the tourist gaze in order to stress that the hosts’collective power of ‘gazing’(at the tourists) and manipulating such a gaze is as important as
that of the tourist gaze
once the tourists reach a tourist destination, it is not only
the local people who are on display, the tourists also immediately constitute part
of the visual reality of the local landscape
THE HOST GAZE
The general comments I got from tourism workers in Vietnam about Chinese
tourists mostly paraded negative stereotypes. Such comments included: Chinese
tourists are rude and impolite; they speak too loud; they complain too much;
they do not care for others. One of the workers said Chinese people bargain too much.
AUTHENTICITY REVISITED AND THE TOURIST GAZE
In this section I revisit the tourist gaze in conjunction with MacCannell’s staged
authenticity.Tourists for MacCannell are those who feel alienated by the routine
life of highly industrialized/modernized societies and those who have a persist-
ent quest for authenticity elsewhere.
MacCannell (1973, 1976) asserts that ‘staged authenticity’is the only possible
authenticity for tourists’consumption
Indeed, while Urry’s tourist gaze is consciously and subconsciously organized
by postcards, guide books, promotional materials of tourist agencies, TV travel
programmes and so on, MacCannell’s tourists are programmed with a desire to
gaze deeper, what MacCannell (2001) terms ‘the second gaze’. To him, many
tourists are actually aware of the contrived reality during sightseeing trips.
Underneath such awareness, there still lies an urge for probing deeper into the
‘backstage’. For MacCannell (1999: 3), the essence of modernity