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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Effects of Nostalgia on Subjective Well-Being: Evidence from Rural China
by Meng, Zhenhao, Ph.D., Purdue University, 2017, 200; 10600583
Abstract (Summary)

This study investigates the subjective well-being of Chinese rural-urban migrants by examining the effects of nostalgia and perceived authenticity in the context of rural tourism. The rural-urban migration and rural tourism are unique phenomena in contemporary China. Since 1978 when the country’s dramatic economic reform began, China has witnessed a rapid and unprecedented process of urbanization. Due to economic disparity between rural and urban regions, people from rural regions have been flocking to urban regions, which has resulted in a large-scale flow of rural-urban migration. However, having settled in big cities with changes of life experience, the migrants now join in the recent boom of rural tourism as part of their pursuit of happiness.

Founded on the theories of tourist motivation and nostalgia and drawn on selected Chinese philosophical values, this study develops a conceptual model of rural tourism motivation for rural-urban migrants. The model identifies the unique Chinese philosophical values of both “searching for ancestral roots” and “old home/hometown” as key factors of motivation for rural-urban migrants returning to rural destinations. The empirical evidence shows that rural-urban migrants have strong desires to return to rural regions in search of their past memories, personal heritages, and ancestral roots. Rural destinations contain unique cultures, customs, environments, and lifestyles with which migrants were once very familiar. For those rural-urban migrants, nostalgia is found to be the key push factor that motivates them to return to rural destinations because of the Chinese philosophical value of “old home/hometown”. To them, this philosophical value means more than any particular rural destination or their actual home villages. It represents their personal life stories, family histories, and true self-identities. Therefore, a visit to rural destinations is not merely a tourism activity to them—it is a particular way to find their inner peace, past memories, and values, fulfilling their need for self-actualization and improving their subjective well-being. The analysis of the textual interview data in the study benefited from the introduction of such Chinese philosophical values as exemplified by the sayings of “fallen leaves return to the roots” and “searching for ancestral roots”.

The study also found that there is a discrepancy between the expectation of rural-urban migrants returning to rural regions and the reality of what they perceive. Rapid social development and reconstruction have not only occurred in urban China, but substantial developments have also taken place in rural regions. Therefore, rural-urban migrants perceive that many original aspects of rurality, rural community, and rural culture have been lost. The findings from the study reveal that rural-urban migrants pursue an authentic rural destination, which would have an emotional and memorable appeal, because it arouses their nostalgic feelings. The way they perceive authenticity largely depends on their past life stories and the comparisons with and reflection on their current lives and visiting experiences, which is very emotionally complex. The study invokes an age-old Chinese philosophical value to understand their perception process of authenticity: “one can’t have fish and bear at the same time”. The perception process is tantamount to balance between preserving authenticity and modern development rather than giving up one aspect to the other. The migrants value the importance of preserving rural originality; yet, they believe in the necessity of changing and transforming some aspects of rural regions. They are pursuing neither the pure format of objective authenticity nor constructive authenticity. They look for the combined efforts of integrating modern elements into rural tradition, culture, and authenticity.

The results from the study are pragmatically valuable for rural destinations and tourism businesses to apply the understanding of nostalgia and other motivational factors for effective product development and marketing. Furthermore, preserving rural culture and authenticity through proper rural tourism development can improve the overall social and cultural welfare of hosting communities and the subjective well-being of tourists. The review of the research process illustrates the impact and importance of integrating Chinese philosophical values into academic inquiries on the consumers of the Chinese tourism market instead of explaining Chinese phenomena based only on Western theories.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cai, Liping A.
Commitee: Day, Jonathan, Lu, Ying, Tang, Chun-Hung, Zhang, Hongmei
School: Purdue University
Department: Hospitality and Tourism Management
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 79/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Economics, Recreation
Keywords: Authenticity, Chinese philosophical value, Chinese rural tourism, Nostalgia, Rural-urban migrants, Subjective well-being
Publication Number: 10600583
ISBN: 978-0-355-25728-1
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