China stakes out Shangri-La for tourists



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.


Tibetan exile government blasts China's Shangri-La plan



26 July 2002 (AP) --

The Tibetan government in exile Friday criticized China's plan to promote a rugged area on the edge of the Tibetan plateau as a so-called Shangri-La for tourists, saying it was an attempt to cover up its suppression of the Tibetan people.

The government in exile was reacting to China's announcement Wednesday of plans to designate 50 counties in Tibet and two provinces, Sichuan and Yunnan, as "The China Shangri-La Ecological Tourist Zone." The official Xinhua New Agency reported that the government would invest $9.6 billion over eight years to develop a profitable vacation and ecotourism destination for Western travelers.

If the Chinese authorities "were serious about Tibetan culture, they should preserve what's in Tibet -- religious rituals and the ability of the monks to teach freely to their followers," said Thubten Samphel, spokesman for the Tibetan government in exile in the northern Indian mountain town of Dharmsala.

Samphel accused the Chinese government of being hypocritical in promoting a part of Tibet as a mythical paradise while suppressing Tibetan culture and religion. "Tibet's true strength is its Buddhist culture which has been constantly assaulted by the Chinese authorities," Samphel said.

Shangri-La, supposedly a long-forgotten Tibetan word for paradise, became legendary after British writer James Hilton's "Lost Horizon" (1933) portrayed it as a Himalayan kingdom where youth is preserved and dreams are fulfilled. The Tibetan government in exile accuses China of pursuing a deliberate policy of population change by relocating ethnic Chinese into Tibet and said tourist traffic there would not benefit Tibetans.

"Tibet is no Shangri-La at all. The political reality is people living under oppression and by going there, (tourists) are abetting and encouraging a system which oppresses people," Samphel said. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and set up his government in exile in Dharmsala.

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