Displacing Desire: Travel and Popular Culture in China

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ISBN-13: 9780824830717
Published: October 2006

Additional Information

208 pages | 17 illus., 2 maps
  • About the Book
  • Why do millions of people from around the world flock to Dali, a small borderland town in the Himalayan foothills of southwest China? “Lonely planeteers”— American, European, and Israeli backpackers named for the guidebook they carry—trek halfway across the globe to “get off the beaten track,” yet converge here to drink coffee, eat banana pancakes, and share music from home. Coastal Chinese who are prospering in the phenomenal economic growth of China’s reform era travel thousands of miles to sing songs and dress up as their favorite characters from a revolutionary-era movie musical. Overseas Chinese from Southeast Asia as well as a new generation of mainland youth follow in the footsteps of heroes and villains from Hong Kong martial arts novels, seeking an experience of a Buddhist “wild, wild, West” at a martial arts theme park dubbed “Hollywood East,” or “Daliwood.”

    Inspired by representations in popular culture that engender fantasies of the exotic, these tourists, Western and Chinese, journey to Dali, Yunnan, in search of an imagined place where they can indulge their craving for authenticity, display their status in the present, and act out their nostalgia for the past. Based on more than a decade of ethnographic research, Beth Notar explores struggles over place as people in Dali attempt to represent their historical identity and define their future.

    Displacing Desire takes representation into the realm of practice to consider the ways in which those who are represented must contend with their image in popular culture and the material after-effects of representations even decades after their original production. It contributes to an exploration of travel as performance of nostalgia, fantasy, and status. More specifically it contributes to an understanding of the growth of consumer culture in China, examining what China’s modernization process and market economy mean for different social actors in their struggles over power and place.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Beth E. Notar, Author

      Beth E. Notar is assistant professor of anthropology at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Throughout the book, Notar makes thought-provoking points on topics as nostalgia, authenticity, globalization, and ethnicity. . . . An excellent contribution to the anthropology of tourism and to the ethnography of Chinese reform. This engaging and clearly written book will make a useful teaching resource in Chinese society, tourism, and consumption.
      —Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (14, 2008)
    • A well-crafted ethnography that stands on its own as a rich and rewarding discussion of the work of representation and the astonishing touristic materiality of people’s geographical imaginations in China today. . . . Timely and worthwhile.
      —Pacific Affairs (80:2, Summer 2007)
    • A very interesting book, groundbreaking in its ethnographic exploration of touristic narrative desire in Dali, in China, and perhaps throughout the world.
      —Asian Anthropology (6, 2007)
    • In a half-dozen penetrating chapters, anthropologist Notar examines the relationship between cultural representations and physical transformation in this superb ethnography of place. . . . Besides the valuable contribution that this book makes to the literature on representation, popular culture, and tourism, it offers fascinating insights on a growing Chinese consumer society. Highly recommended.
      —Choice (45:2, October 2007)
    • [A] sweeping and beautifully rendered account of the tourist discovery and popular imagining of Dali.
      —The China Quarterly (191, September 2007)
  • Supporting Resources