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China Stakes Out Shangri-La for Tourists

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 02/07/27; July 27, 2002.]


BEIJING, July 26, 2002 (AP) -- China declared Thursday that the mythical settlement of Shangri-La had, in fact, been a full-fledged country, neatly settling a row among three provinces trying to exploit the name's tourist potential.

For years, municipalities in a rugged, underdeveloped region of southwestern China have vied to claim the legendary Himalayan wonderland of Shangri-La as their own. Now they've decided to stop squabbling and work together--to bring in tourism dollars.

Tibet and two provinces, Sichuan and Yunnan, have endorsed a plan to mark off a 50-county swath of terrain at the foot of Meili Snow Mountain, which straddles the regions. It will be rechristened Shangri-La--or, more specifically, the China Shangri-La Ecological Tourist Zone.

Shangri-La, supposedly a Tibetan word for paradise, became legendary after British writer James Hilton's Lost Horizon (1933) portrayed it as a cut-off Himalayan kingdom of perfect peace and harmony into which a group of Westerners stumble after surviving an air crash. The descriptions of a utopia, where moderation was prized and youth was preserved, inspired former President Franklin Roosevelt to rename what is now Camp David "Shangri-La."

A popular 1937 Frank Capra movie, also called ''Lost Horizon," sealed its spot in American culture.

Although Hilton was careful to specify that the path to Shangri-La could not be retraced, nor its location found on any map, China has been determined to identify the location of Shangri-La in the hope of igniting a tourist boom.

Hilton never visited the area, and no evidence exists that there ever was a genuine Shangri-La. Still, that has neither stopped places from trying nor prevented the government from pushing the myth for foreign--and, of late, domestic--tourist consumption.

The area's regional governments--Yunnan's Diqing Tibetan Prefecture, Sichuan's Qamdo Prefecture and Tibet's Nyingchi County and Ganzi Prefecture--decided Wednesday to invest $9.6 billion jointly in eight years to develop the place, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

They hope the allure of a fanciful, fictional past will mean a better economic future.

"It's a great idea, and a great prospect for tourism. Not only will it attract loads of tourists, but it will inject real economic development into our region," said Yao Runwen of the Diqing Tibetan Prefecture Tourism Bureau.

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