Luanzhou: Manufacturing Culture

This is the third post in a series about a recent business trip I took to northeast Hebei province

Like Tangshan, Luanzhou relies on its resource-guzzling heavy industries as its main economic driving force. Now, the city is trying to add a second pillar to support the local economy: cultural tourism.

Luanzhou’s efforts fall under the central government’s broader umbrella of streamlining cultural production in China. The Chinese government also wants “to improve Chinese citizens’ sense of identity and confidence in Chinese culture”, according to China’s CCTV.

The city is making the most of these efforts, combining it’s industrial advantages with its fledgling tourist industry.

The centerpiece of Luanzhou’s tourist-boosting plan is a new ancient city park, a 133.3-hectare residential and commercial zone straddling the border of the modern city. Constructed in traditional, local architectural fashion, the city’s streets are lined with restaurants, cafes, bars and small shops. For a hefty fee, small courtyard flats can be rented or purchased, completing the feel of living in ancient times.

Costs and the necessity for better infrastructure (the roads were a little bumpy and unable to handle heavy traffic), the most obvious obstacle to Luanzhou’s ambition of becoming a tourist hotspot is its location. Stuck between Beijing and Qinhuangdao, Luanzhou can never hope to compete with the cultural and historic landmarks of the Chinese capital or the pristine beaches and relaxing atmosphere of the northern port city. For the time being, Luanzhou will focus on attracting urbanites in need of a relaxing break from city life.

Our group was given the special treatment while touring Luanzhou. At the ancient city park, a special evening show was performed, with fire dancers and people in costumes jumping about. Afterward, we were encouraged to take part in one of Luanzhou’s traditional dances (which was apparently video taped and shown on local TV stations).

We were also shuttled outside of the city proper to Wanfeng Tower, a hilltop pagoda built in the 900s but partially destroyed in the earthquake of 1976. It was recently renovated to promote tourism.

As our guides and the other Party officials went on and on about tourism in Luanzhou, my interest turned to a large industrial facility at the base of the hill the pagoda was on. It was grossly out of place; a scar of modernity on an otherwise traditional and ancient landscape. It was also barely visible through the thin layer of smog hanging over the area, no doubt produced by the facility itself.

My interpreter saw what I was looking at. He laughed. “This is what they were talking about before when they said ‘mixing industry and culture,'” he said. I laughed too.

The facility, it turns out, was the largest iron mine in Asia. I think it’s safe to say the mine wouldn’t be closing anytime soon just to beautify the area as part of Luanzhou’s tourist revitalization plan.

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