Gilding the pearl
cultural heritage, sexual allure and polychromatic exoticism on Hainan island
Keywords:Hainan, tourism, exoticism, Li, sexual allure
Hainan island, located between 108–111 degrees east and 18–20 degrees north (on a similar latitude to northern Vietnam), is a southern tropical ‘outlier’ of continental China that has developed as a major tourist centre over the last two decades. Following an introduction to the socio-cultural history of the region, the article analyses the manner in which a series of post-war media and performance texts created an exotic and erotic image for the island (and for its indigenous Li population in particular) that has been perpetuated and extended in a range of contemporary performance practices. While this article addresses issues of representation, its discussions are not primarily concerned to identify the misrepresentation of an essential island referent (i.e. the ‘real’ Hainan) but rather to address the interplay between a set of media representations of the island and contemporary cultural performance on it. The final section analyses the manner in which the recently opened ‘Impression Hainan’ showcase in Haikou provides an early twenty-first-century inflection of a range of the representational tendencies we discuss. Our conclusion reflects on the impact of the exoticist and eroticist commodification of the island on its indigenous minorities.
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