Acta Geographica Sinica

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From Idealism to Realism to Rational Idealism: Reflection on 30 Years of Development in Tourism Geography in China

BAO Jigang   

  1. Center for Tourism Planning and Research, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
  • Online:2009-10-16 Published:2009-10-29
  • Supported by:

    Innovation Method Fund of China, No.2007FY140800


During the 30 years of development in tourism geography in China between 1978 and 2008, many researchers analyzed and evaluated its development in different periods.  However, most of such studies were done from the perspective of geography of tourism itself, without taking the perspectives such as China's social and economic development, overall academic development as well as the background of tourism activities. This paper reflects and evaluates the three periods of development in tourism geography based on the differences of research orientation: the periods of idealism, realism and rational idealism. In the idealism period, major development in tourism geography was shown by the fact that scholars constructed the scope of the subject of study and the framework for research as well as kept up with the theoretical development abroad. While educating the next generation of scholars, they were also involved in problem-solving by making contribution to the society. They set up the association for the study of tourism geography to strengthen collaboration. In the period of realism, geographers of tourism became the major force for tourism planning. Their research was driven by what they did as planners, with less effort on theoretical development. As a result, their research scope was relatively narrow with less attention to development abroad and lack of paradigms. In the rational realism period, scholars paid more attention to theory construction, with more interdisciplinary studies at the aim of broadening research scope and more international exchanges. In the meantime, planning was of higher standard, and  tourism geography as a subject of study received more attention and support in academic circle. This paper points out that the rational realism being discussed is based on individual cases rather than large-scale reality. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether such rational realism is going to continue in the near future.

Key words: geography of tourism, idealism, realism, rational realism