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Friday, September 4, 1998 Published at 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Promoting paradise in Shangri-la

Shangri-la country - but all is not well

The legend of Shangri-la, a fictional paradise where inhabitants never grow old, was born in the remote mountains of China, according to researchers.

Colin Blane finds Shangri-la
Chinese academics say the inspiration for Shangri-la comes from the Tibetans of Yunnan Province, in China.

The Shangri-la story became famous, and slipped into common usage through the 1930s book Lost Horizon.

Now the theme of a hidden paradise is being used to boost tourism but the process is not as harmonious as the ideal.

Paradise shattered

Some fear the tranquillity that first prompted the Shangri-la connection will be shattered by the tourists that officials are planning to attract to the region.

Historian Xuan Ke researched the Shangri-la legend and is horrified that the concept is being hijacked.

[ image: Xuan Ke: Tourism is a mistake]
Xuan Ke: Tourism is a mistake
He said: "I think the government and officials always make mistakes. I gave them this gift to preserve the culture, but they thought that tourism can come and there can be five-star hotels everywhere."

Shangri-la was a place of moderation and tolerance - its spirit is embodied by the Buddha Ne Ma.

Xuan Ke said: "I believe Shangri-la should be a sacred place, somewhere open to different religions. And here in this area people do get along, and of course, this is also a tranquil valley surrounded by snowy mountains."

As part of the tourist drive one tiny village, identified by China's Shangri-la research committee, is about to feel the full weight of the country's tourist industry.

A bewildered resident has even been told by the committee that she is related to a fictional character in Lost Horizon, written by James Hilton.

Better lives

Some of them are pleased with the label but for more personal reasons.

One woman said: "Even though this is a tranquil and attractive village, it's still a very poor place.

"If visitors come here people will be more prosperous and our lives will be better."

Other towns and villages, many of them shabby and charmless, across hundreds of miles are also claiming links with the mythical community.

The Shangri-la village is situated at the end of a tiny hill road in the eastern folds of the Himalayas, near one of China's last unconquered mountains.

The Catholic church and Buddhist prayer flags co-exist in a spirit of tolerance.

But as the differing views of Shangri-la's future rumbles on one thing is certain - Shangri-la will never be the same.

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