Heritage and tourism in East Asia’s developing nations: Communist–socialist legacies and diverse cultural landscapes

Dallen J. Timothy, Bihu Wu, Oyunchimeg Luvsandavaajav

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


For tourism, East Asia is a unique region of the world for several reasons. First, it forms a mix of developed and developing countries, with the more affluent countries of the region being only relatively recently developed. Second, it is culturally diverse with a large variety of ethnic groups in only five states: China (People’s Republic of China, including Hong Kong and Macao semiautonomous regions (SARs) and Taiwan), Mongolia, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea. Third, while the countries in this region are few in number, they are among the most populated on earth. The region is geographically very large and home to nearly a quarter of the earth’s population (approximately 23.5 percent). Fourth, the three less-developed countries of the region (North Korea, China, and Mongolia) have all been communist states and are all in various transitional stages of political change. Finally, the appeal of tourism in all three developing states lies in their heritage resources; in essence, tourism in East Asia is heritage tourism (including a very important natural heritage in China). Indicative of this is the high number of UNESCOdesignated World Heritage Sites shown in Figure 6.1. As noted earlier in Chapter 3, heritage is highly political, and many parties vie for power in any given location. Also mentioned in Chapter 3, Kim et al. (2007) and Timothy and Boyd (2003) identify several ways in which tourism is manipulated by the powerful to achieve some political end. The most pertinent for East Asia are: 1) when a country uses tourism as a tool for spreading propaganda to foreign visitors and extolling the virtues of a certain national ideology; and 2) using heritage and tourism to build nationalism and patriotism within a country’s own citizenry. These two political uses are especially endemic to socialist-communist states, and the three developing countries (including China) in this region are no exception. Each of the three countries demonstrates this at varying degrees or levels. North Korea, for example, is the strictest communist regime remaining in the world today and has been since the 1950s. Tourism is strictly controlled and relatively few people travel in or out. When_ figure 6. 1 Developing Countriesan d World Her it age Site s of East Asia foreign tourists do visit, they are required to be with a guide at all times, and the main destinations are related to nationalist ideals and glorifying the revolutionary past. This will be highlighted later in the discussion of North Korea. China, while officially a communist state, functions economically as a capitalist society. Before the widespread growth of tourism in China during the 1990s, the country resembled closely the situation noted above; tourism was seen as a propaganda tool to illustrate the superiority of the communist system (Guangrui 1989; Hall 2001). Today, however, visitors are not required to visit nationalist sites or participate in tours of schools and factories that reinforce socialist ideals. Tourism in Mongolia prior to the 1990s followed the same pattern noted above, with the focus of the strictly controlled sector being schools, urban centers developed by the Soviets, and patriotic monuments to Soviet and Mongolian national heroes. Today, however, as a developing parliamentary republic, the country has shunnedmuch of its communist past andmoved toward a more globalized economy, including tourism. Like China, there is no longer a system in place to attempt to indoctrinate visitors about the virtues of a specific political system. This state-socialist past plays a very important role in all three countries’ heritage tourism sectors, particularly still in North Korea. Living culture and ethnic heritage are important ingredients in the tourism mix of the region as well. This is particularly the case in Mongolia, which is a fairly homogeneous country but with an interesting traditional culture, and China, a large country with dozens of ethnic minority groups, each trying to become involved in showing their heritage to Chinese and foreign visitors. Similarly, the region’s ancient cultures and their material remains form a significant foundation for a thriving heritage tourism sector. This chapter aims to describe several of the main themes and issues in heritage tourism in the developing countries of East Asia (i.e., China, Mongolia, and North Korea), including the ways in which the political past, as noted above, and the cultural diversity influence the heritage product. The chapter also explains some of the management constraints and challenges being faced by the region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCultural Heritage and Tourism in the Developing World
Subtitle of host publicationA Regional Perspective
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781134002283
ISBN (Print)041577621X, 9780415776219
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • General Social Sciences


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