THE opening of China's doors to the outside world is well known. More than 19 million tourists last year were witnesses to the policy. The travelers, mostly overseas Chinese from Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, also included a million travelers from Western countries. Less well known, however, is the opening of China's doors to the inside.
Long pinned down at home by lack of means and restrictions on domestic travel, Chinese citizens are now beginning to see their own country for the first time. There were some 270 million domestic travelers last year, and the number is expected to double by the early 1990s.
Many of the domestic tourists are rural residents whose standard of living has improved more rapidly than that of people living in the cities. They come to see the same sights foreign tourists pay thousands of dollars to visit. But they don't demand air-conditioned buses and iced drinks on a hot day or hotels with private baths, carpeted rooms, and after-hours coffee shops.
Shanghai and Peking are full of such tourists. Rural families from nearby provinces crowd the narrow sidewalks of Shanghai's Nanking Road looking for expensive consumer goods and the latest fashions. They walk the bund, marveling at the ships on the Huangpu River and buying trinkets from hawkers.
Officials in Peking estimate that the capital has almost a million such transients on any given day. They pour out of the train stations from towns and villages all over China, loaded with gifts for relatives and friends - gifts they imagine are difficult to come by in the northern capital.
They line up for several hours to walk through Mao Tse-Tung's mausoleum and buy soda pop and ice cream inside the Forbidden City, the former residence of the Chinese emperor. They pose for family pictures on the modern-looking overpass at Jianguomenwai with the high-rise apartment buildings of the foreign residential compounds in the background.
Chinese citizens are still envious of foreigners who can afford to travel freely in their own country. Even now, urban Chinese seldom have the opportunity or means to travel to other major cities, much less to remote regions such as Tibet, Xinjiang, or Yunnan. But more are getting to know their own country and it is a trend that is straining the demand for inexpensive tourist services rather than the luxury hotels for foreigners that earn foreign currency.
Domestic tourism earned the state over 10 billion yuan (almost $3 billion) last year. It's an industry that's just begun to take off.
``Any attempt to avoid or hinder its development would be a strategic mistake,'' commented Shanghai's World Economic Herald recently.