CHONGQING, China – Square dancing, a favorite community activity in Chinese cities, is finding popularity in the countryside as booming tourism is seeing urbanites take the practice with them as they travel.
Encouraged by authorities who see it as a new economic growth engine, rural tourism is on the fast track in China. It drew an investment of about 122 billion yuan (18 billion U.S. dollars) in the first half of 2016, a year-on-year increase of 62.3 percent, according to the China National Tourism Administration (NTA).
The NTA said about two billion tourists visited China’s countryside last year.
The increasing number of urbanites visiting her hometown has had one big effect on Yang Shihui’s lifestyle: The 48-year-old has taken up square dancing.
“The visitors are used to square dancing, so when they come for vacations in our village, they dance here too,” Yang said. “I have learned some of their routines and have become quite addicted.”
Yang owns a homestay in Xinglong Village, which sits in a remote corner of southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality. Xinglong is typical of Chinese villages on the edges of urban sprawl whose scenery and fresh air make them attractive retreats for city slickers.
“Most of my guests are retired citizens from Chongqing, and they all love square dancing,” Yang said.
Many public squares in Chinese cities come alive at night with senior citizens performing choreographed dance routines as music blasts out of loudspeakers.
In Xinglong, they initially danced in the courtyards of homestays, but these spaces proved too small as the numbers grew. The local government responded by building a big public square to cater to the dancers.
Sited at the foot of a mountain, with a pavilion to one side of it and a meandering stream to another, “the square is part of our plan to bolster tourism here,” said Ran Hucheng, Party chief of Dong’an Township, which administers Xinglong.
The Chongqing government has invested heavily in rural tourism in recent years. In 2014 alone, it spent more than 33 million yuan to help develop the sector in places like Xinglong, according to the municipal tourism bureau.
As the local tourism market grows, so does the popularity of Yang’s homestay. These days, the guesthouse rakes in an annual income of more than 300,000 yuan.
“At first, it was the guests dancing, but gradually even locals fell in love with the activity,” Yang said.
The two parties have been exchanging dance moves.
Yang said there used to be a big dance scene in Xinglong, with villagers honing their own style, called “Qiangun,” a type of dance featuring bamboo sticks and copper coins. But as the residents left to seek jobs in big cities, passion for dancing waned in Xinglong.
“Fortunately, as tourism has boomed, many migrant workers have returned home to start businesses, and the number of people who can do the Qiangun dance is rising again,” said Fu Hongzheng, a local official.
A Xinglong visitor who gave her name as Zhang said she even learned the Qiangun dance from locals and incorporated it into her routine.
“We get along very well with the villagers as we learn dance moves from each other,” Zhang said. “I plan to bring the Qiangun moves to Chongqing and teach my fellows in the city.”
China is determined to drive the development of rural tourism, with the government planning to create 150,000 “distinctive rural tourism villages” to benefit 50 million residents by 2020. ( It has become a daily routine for Yang Shihui to go to the square and dance with her guests. She believes square dancing will only get more popular in the countryside.
“Rural tourism is developing very fast these days and I am very happy that we are living better lives,” Yang said. “When you are happy, why not join the square dancers and bust a move?”