The Combination of Cultural Heritage Tourism and Creative Industry

Posted: May 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: | No Comments »


Tourism has been found to be the number one industry in many countries and has been a driving force for economic growth. Tourism in China has greatly expanded over the last few decades. The emergence of a newly rich middle class and an easing of restrictions on movement by the Chinese authorities are both fueling this travel boom. China has become one of the most-watched and hottest outbound tourist markets around the world. It has been estimated that at least 1.3 billion Chinese need a place to go for entertainment with the increasingly growing of their income (Investors ride China’s theme park craze 2006) In 2006, according to the UNWTO, China received 49.6 million international visitors, making it the fourth most visited countries in the world (Lu 2006). According to the National Tourism administration of China, China would be the world’s number one tourism destination and the fourth-largest nation for tourist departures by 2020(ibid).

Cultural heritage tourism is the most important category in China’s tourism industry since China has a vast land and five-thousand-year history. And due to the economic and cultural competition among cities all over china, ancient town tourism becomes useful tool to attract invests and create wealth for local government. According to Hu (2005), ancient villages refer to “preserve the rich heritage and of great historical value special or commemorative significance of the Revolutionary towns and villages.” He further argues that accompanied socio-economic and cultural development, protection of ancient towns is an important part of China (ibid).

First of all, this essay will discuss general benefits in economy and culture and challenges of developing cultural heritage tourism. The next part is brief introduction of ancient town tourism market in China. Finally, with the reference of Cicheng Ancient County and the City of Tien-kung DIY theme park, I will apply the theory of global city brought up by Sassen to examine its position in whole market and discuss the possibility to succeed in the future.


The benefit and challenge of heritage tourism

National Trust for Historic Preservation defines it as “traveling to experience the places, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.”(Hargrove 2002)The value of cultural heritage tourism surpass the entertainment, it owns both economic and cultural benefits and meanings for the local government and people.
Tourism is a powerful economic development tool. Tourism creates jobs, provides new business opportunities and strengthens local economies. When cultural heritage tourism development is done right (Hargrove 2002), it also helps to protect our nation’s natural and cultural treasures and improve the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. A well-managed tourism program improves the quality of life as residents take advantage of the services and attractions tourism adds. It promotes community pride, which grows as people work together to develop a thriving tourist industry. In addition, it provide authentic environment for people to experience culture and history. It also creates new opportunities for tourists to gain an understanding of an unfamiliar place, people or time (ibid).
On the other hand, cultural heritage tourism also provides challenge and problems. One is the protection of original, when a community’s heritage is the substance of what it offers visitors, protecting that heritage is essential. So a major challenge in cultural heritage tourism programs is ensuring that increased tourism does not destroy the very qualities that attract visitors in the first place. Because tourism is a highly sophisticated, fast-changing industry, it presents its own challenges. Moreover, tourism demands infrastructure for tourists, such as roads, airports, water supplies, restaurants, resorts and so on. These deeds deprive the rights and living space of locals and most benefits have taken by the big investors not for locals.

The Proliferation of ancient town tourism in China
China is a vast land with rich tourism resources includes scenic spots, historical heritages, spectacular landscapes, and various traditional customs. Huang (2006) notes China is a cultural enriched country with a history of over 5,000 years and the culture is the essence of Chinese tourism. According to a recent Baidu’s survey, a specific online travel service website of ancient town, Sozhen.Com, is the forth popularity among top ten travel website (ancient town gain more attention 2008). This shows the favorite and popular extent of ancient town tourism in China both foreign and domestic tourists. According the estimate by KuanSan government, Zhouzhuang opened the first site to tourists in 1989, there are only 55,000 person and 200 thousands of income per year (Zhouzhuang tour: 20 years transition 2008). In 2007 there were over 300 million tourists the sales exceed 1.2 billion per year (ibid).Another old city Lijiang in Yunnan province, there were only 3000 to 4000 tourists per year. After it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the amount of tourists has reached 430 millions per year. (Li & Zhou 2008)

As the popularity of heritage tourism grows, so does the competition. According to Kearns and Philo (1993), there are three main connected elements to consider the competition of cities, culture, history and capital. The cultural and historic resource is the most superior advantage and priceless asset to gain attractions. With the 5000-thousand-year history context, there are over two hundred old towns with thousands history around China. Every local government invests enormous capital for developing variously characteristic theme of ancient town tourism to rival the priority since they have been aware that ancient town is a potential business. The competition of ancient town tour has reached the climax.


Ancient town and fashionable creative industry
Case study: Ancient Cicheng and the City of Tien-kung DIY

Cicheng is located in the North of Ningbo with over 2000 years history. It is presently the best preserved ancient county town in south China. It maintains old chessboard pattern of the capital- Chang in Tang dynasty. There are three verticals and seven horizontals and totally thirty three alleys. It owns thirty three sites of the National Key preserved cultural heritage. There are the best preserved Confucain School, the only one extant imperial examination house in eastern Zhejiang province, and the largest ancient China government court in south China. There are totally thirty three national forth-level preserved heritages. (DIY a kind of fashion and an ancient town 2009) With the abundant historical resources, Cicheng becomes one of the key sites to develop tourism and cultural industries by Ningbo Government, According the official of Jiangbei district government, Mr. Chen, the future cultural development is located in CiCheng, and it has orientated as “The specimen of Chinese Ancient County, the paradise of DIY” (Chen 2009)


(Cicheng Ancient County)


According to Sassen’s notion of global city (2001), the specialized difference is the key point to posit a city in the global economy at present. The specialized contribution and function include culture, economy or politic is the foundation of a city to have its own status or market in global economy (Sassen 2001). This notion is also valid to apply for examining Cicheng’s position and opportunity in the whole tourism industry of China.

In cultural and historical conditions, compare to other old towns in south China, the most distinctive difference is that Cicheng is an ancient government and administration county. Others almost are waterfront villages. Such as the most famous old town Zhouzhuang on the skirt of Shanghai is a typical representation of water village tourism in south China. Zhouzhuang is noted for its profound cultural background, the well preserved ancient residential houses, the elegant watery views and the strong local colored traditions and customs (Zhouzhuang tour: 20 years transition 2008). On the other hand, Cicheng also possesses thousands years of history and maintains primitive and nostalgic characters. Besides, it preserves lots of heritage related to political systems in ancient China. There are court, examination house and school, totally thirty three heritage site had been preserved. Moreover, Cicheng is the birthplace of the Hemudu culture. In 1987 the oldest clogs was found in CiCheng, and it is the first shoes in China and world history. With those rich innate terms, Cicheng undoubtedly becomes one of advantageous means for Ningbo developing cultural heritage tourism. ( DIY fashion and an ancient town 2009)

Then, in terms of classification of cities by Sassen, the second tier cities are typically located in the neighborhood of the first tier cities (Sassen 1994). Ningbo as a second tier city of China benefits from the first tier city Shanghai and Hangzhou, but also suffers from competition with them. Since the launch of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge in 2008, the distance from Shanghai to Ningbo has shortened to 160 kilometers. The effect of two-hour-drive tour did bring some effects into Ningbo’s tourism. According to a survey, the tourists grow around 13% in 2008 compare to last year. (Ningbo’s tourism appears the effect of Hangzhou Bay Bridge 2008)

Due to Shanghai 2010Expo is coming next, it is officially estimated that over 70 million foreign and domestic tourists will attend this mega-event Expo. About 35% will stay is Yangzi River Delta for sightseeing. Zhejiang province will be the main destination to attract 90 percentages of visitors (ibid). In fact, Cicheng is the first destination from Shanghai to Ningbo through the Hangzhou Bay Bridge. The subordinate status is a severe challenge for Ningbo. Moreover, it is the unarguable truth that the awareness and popularity of Cicheng is less than other ancient towns in Zhejiang province such as Xitang and Wuzhen.

The race with other possible competitors also exists in the battle of marketing and propaganda. Lack of awareness is another current problem of Cicheng to compete with other similar ancient towns. For example, Zhouzhuang is posited as “this first water village in China” and orient Paris and it become well-known due to the Chinese eminent painter Chen Yifei’s art piece “the memory of hometown”(Art village Zhouzhuang attempts to build up orient Montmartre high land 2007). Another example is Citing, the famous director Guan Jinpeng choose this nostalgic water village to shoot the famous drama “Huahun” which means “painting soul”. After the drama broadcast throughout the country, it attracted numerous tourists to go there for recapturing classical scene. (From tourism transit to leisure, what should Shanghai develop ancient town tour 2006) Many specialists consider the brand play a vital role in the construction of consumer identity (Elliot & Wattanasuwan 1998), and can provide “linking value” which links users into communities. Moreover, in this information and media society, turning into the spectacle and raise the visibility means control the capital and opportunity (Debord 1968). Compare to other old towns, increasing awareness and establishing branding is an urgent and crucial mission. Cicheng needs effective propaganda to promote the popularity to gain higher market share


(No.1 water vallage in South China :  Zhouzhaung  from:


To counter increased competition and manufactured heritage experiences, destinations join together to create theme tours and trails (Margrove 2002).Tourism Research Centre of Chinese Academy of Social Science chairman, Hong Chinhua says that handicraft, real estate, film industries and so on can increase the finical income, enhance the attraction of ancient tourism and also provide more employments for locals (From tourism transit to casual, what should Shanghai develop ancient town tour 2006). In Cicheng, the planners and marketers meditate combining the nostalgic aura and the first one DIY, “do it by your self”, handicraft theme park to create its own specialized difference.

The chef consultant of this DIY theme park, Professor Huang Yongsong, is an authoritative specialist in the field of Chinese folk custom culture. He named this DIY theme park as “City of Tien-kung” which is adopted form the ancient Chinese science and technical encyclopedia – “Tien-kung Kai-wu” written by Song Yingxing in Ming Dynasty. This is the first professional agriculture and handicraft encyclopedia in the world, but finally lost overseas. Coincidentally, the first edition was found in Ningbo. (Huang 2009)

There have been several international DIY industries companies entered the City of Tien-kung, include famous transnational cross stitch company DMC, the biggest sewing machine’s factory in China, a professional arts pigment company from French and clothing handicraft company fro Taiwan. Besides, there have been over 10 DIY studios such as poetry, candles, homemade dolls, paintings. For Mr. Huang, handicraft is the accumulation of the human race’s culture and civilization (Huang 2009). Tourists visiting Cicheng Ancient County and doing handcraft with their hands not only can experience the wisdom of ancestors but also can gain the feeling of achievement and stimulate the creativity.


(Do it by yourself!    Pic from www.天工之城


However, DIY is a niche and immature market in China. The City of Tien-kung DIY leisure land may need more time to promote and educate the potential target. Meanwhile, it also needs to prepare for facing the competition and challenge from other national scale theme parks. It is raised recently the investment craze of theme park around China. The biggest two theme parks around the world, Universal Studio and US-based Walt Disney Land are all prepared to launch in China. Disney land is planning to build up first Disney land in Shanghai’s Nanhui district and to open in 2014. In addition, Zhouzhuang poured US$40 millions constructing a theme park with five thousands Chinese history. And Shenzhen cooperated with Canada-based Bedford International Financial Group planning a $3 billion theme park called China Today based on the legend of Three Kingdoms. An official Liu Jingwang worriedly says “China’s amusement parks and attractions industry is already plagued by repetitive investments from local governments. And he worries that what people do with so many theme parks.” (Investors ride China’s theme park craze 2006)

In fact, DIY theme park is a small part of whole plan and the alternative goal is to build up an only one and number one DIY creative industry cluster in China. Ningbo is the foundation of manufactory, but lacks the capacity of creative innovation. The concept of DIY is not only for attracting tourists, but also has been planned to build as a design and creative cluster of Chinese traditional handicrafts and culture. The main planner Xing Ping says, “The circumstance and condition of Ningbo is different from others, it is impossible to duplicate the model from Beijing or Shanghai (Xing 2009). The strength of Ningbo is manufacturing technique and experience. To combine creative industry and manufactory is beneficial for both sides.” (ibid) And Mr. Huang posits that it is designed as a specialist service plat form for integrating resources and knowledge to provide various infrastructures and equipments (Huang 2009).

Keane (2009) mentions the general phenomenon of domestic manufactories in China which the profits usually go overseas. The author of “Creative Industries are changing China”, Li Wuwei says,” they eat the meat and we have the bone. They eat the rice and we the husk.” (Keane 2009) It is a pertinent description of the same thought for all traditional manufactories’ entrepreneurs. Many local and domestic manufactories are now realizing the bottleneck of improvement and the value of creativity, especially after the financial crisis. An owner of loofah company, Mr. Fei says, “We think about the transition of our business after the global economic crisis. We want to improve products from cleanser materials to a healthy brand.” Upgrading image and building up brands is their same aspiration and this is the reason to think about join the development of DIY industry.

Since local governments all over China have been realized the value of the creative economy, the combination of cultural heritage tourism and creative industries are duplicated in other destinations and proliferated around China. For examples, Zhouzhuang launched its Art village in 2007 and attracted over 150 artists from America, United of Kingdom, Australia, Japan and mainland China to set studios (Art village Zhouzhuang attempts to build up orient Montmartre high land 2007). Afterwards, Kunshan cultural creativity industry cluster also located in 2008. There are totally 25 projects include 10 advanced manufactories, 5 research and development centers and 10 modern service and cultural creativity industries (Zhouzhuang adds new dynamic power 2008). The local government intends to construct Zhouzhuang as the most potential and influential base in Yangzi river delta during five to ten years (ibid.)

However, the construction of creativity cluster is not equal to the development of creative industry. According to Sassen (2001), forming a cluster in this global economy and highly connected digital world needs to highlight its specialized function. This is not only in terms of basic infrastructures and facilities, but also in terms of highly specialized services, such as financial, accounting, design and management consulting and so on (ibid). In the next phrase, the City of Tien-Kung wants to gather local manufactures in Ningbo to join the development of DIY creative industries (Xing 2009). Although the local government provides tax and rent deduction, the issue of education and sustainability is the coming task and the key point to be success. Many entrepreneurs still maintain the attitude of “wait and see”. A representative who owns the biggest bakery brand in Ningbo, Mr. Fei, brings up their concerning, “most investors maybe hesitate to invest if they can not see the efficiency in the near future.”


With increasing income of Chinese people, domestic tourism becomes a potential and productive industry, and cultural heritage and ancient town tour is becoming an emerging market. Developing heritage tourism indeed can bring enormous economic effect to locals, improve the living quality and provide education function. However, excessive development will bring unexpected challenge and problem. Tourism Demands related basic infrastructure and this become the burden of environment. Therefore, protection is the first priority for driving cultural heritage economy.

Nowadays, city competition drives the wave of investing theme park and developing ancient town tourism. Cicheng and the city of Tien-kung is an illustration of this phenomenon. With the rich historical heritage and flavorful aura, Cicheng was chosen by local government to invest for developing tourism and creative industry. In the race with other hundreds ancient towns around China, marketers of Cicheng adopt DIY as the specialized difference to open up its tourism economy and creative industry. This also is the hope and opportunity to provide local manufactories for upgrading and establishing brand images

Form now on, the city of Tien-Kung still is an imaginary city, but those participants seem very confident about this project. However, it is worthy to notice that market-orientate of tourism might cause heritage losing the original appearance and aura. To keep the balance of development and protection is an unavoidable mission. In addition, except for the City of Tien-kung in Cicheng, only in the Jiangbei district, there are other creative clusters: the Jiangbei Wealthy Creative Port, the 134 creative valley, and the 1842 Old Bund (DIY fashion and an ancient town 2009). In the context of socialism, the government policy still plays a crucial role to plan and administrate a big development project in. We can see ambition and intention, but willing power and determination to put into practice is the key to succeed. Except for the construction of creative industry clusters, training and education program is a crucial issue for Ningbo government to develop creative industry.




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