Life in utopia? An ethnography of tourism-related lifestyle migrants in Dali, China
Lifestyle migration is a relatively new phenomenon that has attracted academic attention since the late 20th century. Lifestyle migration is associated with affluent societies, and as a result, previous studies on this topic are mainly Western-oriented. Benefiting from economic reform, China has experienced an economic boom since 1979. Accordingly, lifestyle migration has increased in popularity in the last two decades. The tourism industry plays a very important role in this process. It not only constructs and markets a “better” lifestyle for the potential migrants, but also offers them a feasible and attainable way to achieve it. In contemporary China, opening a hostel or coffee shop in a tourism destination is regarded as an ideal lifestyle among many young people. Attaining such a lifestyle usually involves migrating from a large city to a small town or village and setting up a small independent tourism business there. The main motivation for this behavior appears to be a search for a better way of life rather than making financial profits. In this thesis, these migrants are called “tourism-related lifestyle migrants” (TLMs), and the aim of this research is to explore this new subculture in China. Ethnography, which took a mixed stance of hermeneutics and critical epistemology, was used to understand the life of these TLMs. A six months period of fieldwork was undertaken from May to October 2017 in Dali, China, which is one of the target destinations for Chinese TLMs. Participant observation, interviewing, and some other visual and textual sources were adopted as information-gathering methods. This thesis demystifies the so-called “better life” of TLMs in Dali as a mix of the good and the dark. The everyday practice of TLMs itself can be seen as their embodiment of the imagined good life as well as the critique of the dark side of modern urban life, while the frustration of these endeavors, again, echoes the discourse of the dark. Thus, a critical question is asked: How is the life sought by Chinese TLMs (not) achievable? This question is answered based on a dualism between the making and the disillusioning of utopia. While the former highlights both discursive and non-discursive practice of TLMs, the latter focuses on the role of political and capital power in this process. By situating this new subculture into the context of individualization and modernization in contemporary Chinese society, the thesis argues that TLM is seen as a way, especially by young Chinese, to resist the nihilism caused by the current failure of social re-embedment of individuals. However, the external conditions and internal contradictions in TLM eventually expose the attempt to create a better life for themselves in “utopia” as largely futile.
Advisor: Tucker, Hazel; Albrecht, Julia
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Department of Tourism
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: lifestyle migration; self-identity; tourism destination image; tourism policy; lifestyle entrepreneurship; tourism commercialization; everyday resistance; utopia
Research Type: Thesis