Incorporating the cultural heritage and identity of its major ethnic minorities in a more overtly cross-cultural definition of Chinese identity is a necessary gamble for the political leadership of the People’s Republic of China. On one hand, it helps the successful marketing of its strategic policy aimed at opening up the country’s poor, underpopulated West to economic development, unlocking the huge potential of the domestic tourist market. On the other, it serves a key political purpose, as it allows the Cpc to uphold its commitment to a multiethnic, yet united Chinese nation, thus empowering the government to counter separatist claims through a more coherent cultural policy. But as it reinvents, or even fabricates, ethnic identity from the top, the Chinese government needs to address a growing awareness of its diverse cultural heritage prompted from below. The emblematic case of the renaming of a Tibetan district as “Shangri-La is used to exemplify the hybridization of cultural imageries that is bringing Tibetan lore into the mainstream of China’s contemporary cultural makeup.
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