Markets in Everything: American Illusions


Around the world, there is a lot of money to be made in catering to American illusions:

Shangri-la isn’t even in Tibet proper; it’s situated in the far north of China’s Yunnan province. (The region where Tibetans live actually spans parts of five Chinese provinces, and is known as “greater Tibet .”) Han Chinese tourists from the country’s wealthy eastern cities, who now are becoming more curious about Tibetan lands and culture, also come here to take in the view. They roll in on large tour buses and stay in luxury hotels in the new town, with banquet halls and karaoke bars. Chinese tourists generally spend little time in Shangri-la and instead book guided day trips to take in the dramatic scenery. Western tourists stay in old-town (*which is really the new part of town*) lodges, and stock their backpacks and suitcases with hand-sewn Tibetan coats, jade jewelry, prayer wheels and other trinkets, and profess more interest in the Tibetan people.

Tibetans, for their part, have discovered that there is money to be made from the outside world’s interest in them. That is to say, they are more worldly than we typically give them credit for. In Shangrai-la, some of the most enterprising and entrepreneurial Tibetans can be found running tour shops that cater, alternately, to both Western and Chinese expectations. When I visited the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery just outside of town, there was, improbably, a large construction site in the center of the grounds, with cranes erecting new facilities for the recent surge in tourism. [italics mine]

H/T Yglesias

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