Article written by 2009 DPDF Revitalizing Development Studies Fellow John A. Zinda, featured in Geoforum:
At scenic sites across China, rural officials compelled to maximize revenue use local state authority over protected areas to foster “tourism dynamos”. Local states set up infrastructure and institutions around rural attractions that channel the circulation of tourists, churning out revenues that meet quotas and fund further expansion of attractions and towns. To make these dynamos turn, local authorities have displaced resident-led tourism operations they had previously helped set up. Residents are reincorporated in varying ways and often retain land use rights. Meanwhile, as revenues stream out of attractions, what little is invested in environmental protection goes to maintaining scenery. Local governments also accomplish spatial transformations, within each park intensifying surplus generation in areas zoned for tourism while reserving other areas from use, and beyond park boundaries linking attractions together on tourism circuits radiating from central towns. This state-driven transformations depend on how the reservation of land from commodity exchange within protected areas comes together with specific state capacities to enable tourism intensification. These processes, which I label “developmental conservation,” call attention to selective commodifications and the mediating role of the state in protected area governance in China and beyond.