Chinese officials hope to lure tourists with rockets, ethnic traditions
August 9, 1997
Web posted at: 4:31 p.m. EDT (2031 GMT)
XICHANG COUNTY, China (CNN) -- Xichang county, in the
Liangshan prefecture, is part of a poverty-stricken area of
central China dominated by subsistence farming and a sluggish
economy. Now, officials want to turn things around by
boosting domestic and international tourism using two unusual
attractions: a rocket launch site, and the colorful Yi
"As late as the 1950s the area of Liangshan populated by the
Yi minority was a feudal society, so the customs and
traditions of the Yi minority have been preserved and climate
is very good so it's a great place to visit," said Liangshan
governor Ma Kaiming. He spoke at a recent press conference
publicizing the push to draw tourists to the area.
Yi events like the annual Torch Festival draw thousands of
spectators from across China.
The ancient festival celebrates the legendary Yi victory in a
battle of wits with a god who wanted to tax human beings.
They won by burning a plague of insects sent by the god to
punish their petulance and every year they mark their victory
by lighting straw torches.
Liangshan, with a population of almost 4 million people, is
desperately poor, and trying to eke out a living there is
One of the few sources of income is China's space program,
based at the Xichang launch pad.
The launch pad sees regular launches of China's Long March
space rockets and is already a huge attraction for local
But the income derived from the site is not enough to improve
the lives of peasant farmers in the region.
The Yi, who make up 42 percent of the local population,
mainly get by on subsistence farming in the mountainous
Farmers like Da Ge, a 36-year-old Yi, would much rather move
to cities where the chance of earning a living wage is
greater. But he worries that if he left, nobody would look
after his family of five.
Despite the poverty and despite a number of minority peoples
in the area, Liangshan is free of ethnic unrest and is
And with a gentle climate and 2,000 hours of sunshine a year,
officials feel the area is a perfect draw-card for tourists.
Colorful events like the Torch Festival add to the appeal,
and the Yi people are realizing they have something to offer
Both the Yi and officials are hoping that by publicizing the
area's attractions, the local tourist industry will take off
with a bang.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Related site: Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.