1.1 Research background
Hutong, which is “胡同” in Chinese, refers to alleys lined by residential courtyards, notably in Beijing, China (Day et al., 2015; Gu & Ryan, 2012). Since the Yuan dynasty (A.D. 1271 - A.D. 1368), hutong has been traditional dwellings where native Beijingers have resided for generations. Therefore, hutong, together with the courtyards therein, is described as the “cultural DNA” of the city of Beijing (Wang, 1997, p. 575). Owing to such cultural and historical significance, hutong has developed into a tourist destination since the mid-1990s and garnered tremendous popularity worldwide thereafter (Huang, 2005). In particular, hutong has been a strong magnet for tourists from the U.S. and Britain and has been included in the must-visit lists of world-renowned news media over the decade (e.g., The Daily Telegraph1, 2016; Time2, 2009).
In recent years, with traditional culture underlined as an essential foundation of national development in China, the Beijing administrations at various levels have made renewed efforts to restore the original features of hutong so as to promote the tourist industry. Accordingly, many tourists, particularly foreigners from the West, take hutong as a symbol of old Beijing. This view of Beijing through the lens of Beijing hutong can be seen from their travelogue and reports, of which Peter Hessler’s tourist reports collection entitled Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West is a good example. Peter Hessler is a famous American journalist; most of his reports are published in the New Yorker. In his Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West there is an essay entitled Hutong Karma, where his real daily-life in Beijing hutong is presented.
1.2 Research objectives and significance
The research objectives of this thesis can be expressed generally as well as specifically, with the former being realized in the latter and the latter exemplified in the former. Generally, this thesis draws on the aforementioned theory to explore the semiotic processes of Beijing hutong in Hutong Karma. The thesis will, for example, address such questions as: how did Peter Hessler’s first-person narrative enable him to switch between multiple perspectives? When clusters of perspectives are presented together in specific socio-historical circumstances, why the result is the construction of “linguistic differentiation”? Irvine and Gal’s (1995) account of “linguistic differentiation” as “the ideas with which participants frame their understanding of linguistic varieties and the differences among them, and map those understandings onto people, events, and activities that are significant to them.” is helpful here in that we consider journalistic travel writing as an ideal site for examining the ideological aspects of linguistic differentiation. The differentiation process is open-ended and creative (Irvine & Gal, 2019, p. 138). This thesis will in this sense discuss how iconic linkage travels and spreads across time and place and what happens when existing iconic linkages are placed in a novel context.
Chapter Two Literature Review
2.1 Previous studies on Beijing hutong
Previous research has explored the cultural and historical value of hutong for their tourism uses (Wang, Lew, Yu, Ap, & Zhang, 2003; Li, 2005) and sustainability issues associated with hutong tourism (Du Cros, Bauer, Lo, & Rui, 2005; Johnston, 2014). However, with burgeoning tourism in Beijing around hutong, both the physical forms and business functions of hutong as material building blocks have often been modified to cater to tourists through the proliferation of bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, and boutiques (Gu & Ryan, 2012; Liu & Liu, 2015). As hutong has become a tourism destination, more and more studies have been made to address this phenomenon. For example, Gu and Ryan (2008,