Thursday, August 7, 2008

Urban nostalgia for the rural isn't just an American phenomenon; NPR reports from Sichuan Province in China

NPR's "All Things Considered" program today featured a story about the attraction of urban Chinese for tranquil "rural retreats." (Photos Andrea Hsu for NPR). This isn't the first time NPR has covered this topic in recent months.

But today's piece was, in part, a postscript to the Sichuan earthquake in May. After that disaster, tourism dried up in ancient Shangli, 80 miles southwest of Chengdu, the provincial capital. As it turned out, Shangli was not affected by the quake, and now tourists are back in greater numbers than ever, in part because other rural Chinese retreats were devastated by the quakes.

Here's an excerpt:

To cross the Yellow Thatch Creek that runs through town, tourists hop on stones. They take pictures of peasants such as Li Shi Long, who readied a small patch of land for rice planting. [top photo]

"We're happy to see [the tourists]," Li said. "The more visitors we have, the richer we'll get. The more people, the better."

The contrast between the old world and the new is jarring.

Visitors in miniskirts and heels jabber on cell phones, crossing paths with wizened farmers doubled over from the weight of the vegetables they carry in baskets on their backs.

Xie Zhi Hui from Chengdu brought her 4-year-old daughter to Shangli.

"The air is clear and fresh," she said. "And the people are rustic. It's great to bring my daughter here to see this way of life."

So, it seems that the Chinese, like Americans, are drawn to their rural past, which in China sometimes connotes not just the old, but indeed the ancient.

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