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China / Shangri-La

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 02/08/23; August 23, 2001.]

For readers interested in knowing more about China's Shangri-la that is reported below, be advised that this is the Tibetan county of Zhongdian that was incorporated into China folloiwng the Chinese occupation Tibet. To learn more about the environmental situation in the County please look at the section in this website "Outside the TAR" where there is a usful description. Use the Goggle Search Engine employing the name. To learn more about the County please refer to the authors of Outside the TAR, and information how to send for the report.

Tibet Enviromental Watch (TEW) Staff.

This Seems to be The Real Thing ... Or Is It? Controversy Rages over Renaming of County as China 'Cashes In'

Bangkok Post, August 22, 2002

Since Englishman James Hilton published his novel Lost Horizon in 1933 and it was made into a film of the same name in 1937, people around the world have been searching for Shangri-la _ a paradise on earth.

They fancied they might find it in all the Himalayan regions _ Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, India and Pakistan _ but none of those places had anywhere so delightful.

Then on March 18, China's State Council announced Zhongdian county in Yunnan province, bordering Tibet, had been renamed Shangri-la County.

The announcement aroused interest among travel agencies but triggered protest from scholars in Asia, who have accused China of riding roughshod on the dream of paradise by commercialising the name "Shangri-la".

Of course there are many people who do back China's creation of a Shangri-la county.

"I fully support China's renaming Zhongdian because James Hilton was inspired by Zhongdian," Taiwan anthropology professor Cheng Chin-teh said.

"Hilton based his book on the writings by Joseph Lock, a US botanist who lived in Naxi near Zhongdian for 27 years until he was kicked out by the Chinese Communists in 1949.

"Everything in Zhongdian matches descriptions in Hilton's book," he said.

Cheng has visited Zhongdian five times and led 30 Taiwan travellers on a Shangri-la tour to Zhongdian last month.

Zhongdian is indeed a paradise on earth. At an altitude of 3,000 metres, it boasts snow-capped mountains, blue lakes, hot springs, waterfalls, Tibetans and lama monasteries.

Tibetans regard the highest peak of Zhongdian's Meilixue Mountains _ 6,740-metre Kawaboge Peak _ as the holiest of the eight Holy Mountains they worship. The pyramid-shaped peak has never been scaled by men.

Zhongdian has a Birang Valley, matching the Blue Moon Valley in Lost Horizon, and a 100-year-old Catholic church built by European missionaries, an approximate link to the story in Lost Horizon about a French priest who led Shangri-la as its high lama.

Zhongdian people know about Lost Horizon because Xuan Ke, a fiftyish musician and scholar in Naxi translated the novel from English into Chinese.

He launched a campaign to "officially" confirm the book was based on Zhongdian and to persuade the State Council to rename Zhongdian as Shangri-la County. Hilton cannot be consulted: he died in 1954.

Zhongdian County did rename itself Shangri-la County in 1997, and received the State Council's approval for this on March 18 this year.

Since then, many Chinese and foreign tour groups have visited Zhongdian _ taking a 45-minute flight from Yunnan's capital city, Kunming, to Naxi and riding a bus for four hours to Zhongdian.

Despite its opening to tourists, Zhongdian's scenery and ecology has reportedly not suffered much damage from tourism ... yet.

The local Tibetans are still very poor.

Lost Horizon tells how Britain sends a diplomat _ Robert Cornway _ to evacuate 90 Europeans, who are trapped in war-torn China, from a fictitious place called Baskul to the coastal metropolis of Shanghai.

But Cornway is able to get only four Europeans into a plane, which flies them to Shangri-la instead of Shanghai. He later finds out the plane has been sent by Shangri-la's high lama to kidnap him so that Cornway would take over the leadership of Shangri-la.

After living in Shangri-la for some time, Cornway and the other Europeans become homesick and flee Shangri-la. After reaching civilisation, Cornway realises he has abandoned something dear to him and returns to Shangri-la.

The word "Shangri-la" has brought huge profits to the Himalayan region.

Tens of thousands of tourists visit the Himalayas each year taking Shangri-la tours, using Shangri-la hotels and buying books whose covers bear the magic word.

Places billed as resembling the fictitious setting of Lost Horizon include both Pokhra and Darjeeling in Nepal, Mustang (a Tibetan kingdom under Nepalese rule), the tiny territory of Sikkim and Bhutan as well as Hunzar in Pakistan.

None outside China claim to "be" Shangri-la. Observers say Zhongdian's declaration that it is the "true" Shangri-la is unlikely to produce a challenge from other nations, even though they fear China's move will hurt their tourism.

There are suspicions that China may also claim ``Shangri-la'' as a trademark and bar others from putting the word on their goods as a brand name.

Even inside China, some scholars have questioned the wisdom of the Chinese move. "I don't think it's appropriate because we all know Shangri-la refers to utopia, a fairy tale," says Li Xu, a researcher at China's Yunnan Research Institute for Social Sciences.

"Apart from foreign countries, two regions in China which consider themselves to be the true Shangri-la are unhappy that the State Council gave the name to Zhongdian," he added.

"Zhongdian got the central government's attention because Xuan Ke (the musician) invited reporters to visit Zhongdian who wrote stories and made Zhongdian well-known. They have waged the self-promotion campaign for several years."

Even before the State Council approved the name-change, Yunnan was already capitalising on the name.

A Yunnan distillery has been turning out a wine called Shangri-la Tibetan Drink, saying it is made with a formula left by French missionaries.

Another Yunnan factory produces a Shangri-la-brand cigarette, after having bought the trademark from a cigarette factory in China's Shannxi Province.

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