The Huanglong Pilgrimage: Religion and Cultural Diversity in China's Ethnic Borderland
Huanglong (Yellow Dragon) is an old pilgrimage center at the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau in Sichuan Province, China. A magnet for generations of Han Chinese, Tibetans, Qiang and other pilgrims of mixed ethnicities in the region, the site is named after the god they worship in common, the Yellow Dragon, who is identified with the natural wonder of the site's multicolored karst limestone outcrops and pools, representing his claws and shining scales. Since 1991 the site has been a national treasure recognized by UNESCO, and it is under the active administration of a government agency charged with its protection and development for tourism. This paper, as part of a large project conducted jointly by Professor Donald Sutton of Carnegie Mellow University and me, examines the relationship between religion, ethnicity, and modern tourist development in shaping the cultural diversity of Chinese sacred sites. The annual pilgrimage to Huanglong facilitates communications among different ethnic groups. Yet under the shared symbol of the Yellow Dragon, ideas and practices of the pilgrims are highly diverse and sometimes even contradictory, and they are deeply embedded in constant interactions among official representation and action, tourist development, personal entrepreneurship, shifting ethnic perceptions and relations, and local religious expression and sentiment. The annual pilgrimage to Huanglong therefore shows how different ethnic groups use religious symbols to redefine themselves between their cultural traditions and modern developments in China.
Keywords: Religion, Ethnicity, Tourism, Cultural diversity
Dr. Xiaofei Kang
Assistant Professor, History department, St. Mary's College of Maryland
Dr. Donald Sutton
Professor of History and Anthropology, History, Carnegie Mellon University