Tourist city denies renaming mountain after "Avatar" site

20:04, January 28, 2010      

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Authorities of the tourist city of Zhangjiajie, in central China, denied Thursday they had renamed a mountain after an alien habitat from sci-fi movie "Avatar."

The denial came after fierce backlash from Chinese Internet users who accused officials of being money-oriented and blindly worshipping Western culture after reports saying Zhangjiajie officially changed the name of 'South Sky Pillar', a mountain in the city's Yuanjiajie scenic spot, into Hallelujah Mountain.

"We just put a poster of two pictures comparing 'South Sky Pillar' with 'Hallelujah Mountain' on the mountain to show people evidence that the Avatar mountain originated here. It is a source of pride to Zhangjiajie," said Ding Yunyong, head of the city's tourism department.

In an on-line survey by popular portal Sina.com, 54,619 respondents condemned the renaming while only 5,897 supported it.

Even a survey held by Hunan portal, Rednet.cn, showed disapproval as 70.94 percent voted against it and only 20.63 percent showed approval. Zhangjiajie is a city in Hunan Province.

"The incident killed my feeling for Zhangjiajie. They disgraced Chinese culture. They are full of money, but I would never take any there," said a comment posted by "Gudasao".

Chinese law required a set procedure of seeking residents' approval for changing place names, and such an abrupt change was very likely illegal, said lawyer Deng Guizhi.

"It is a good idea to borrow the fame of Avatar, but renaming should be cautious," said Yang Guangrong, head of the provincial tourism department.

"We only added a way to call the mountain, the previous name is not abolished," said Song Zhiguang, director of the administration committee of Yuanjiajie scenic spot.

Only about 100 of the 3,000 mountains in Zhangjiajie have names.

A Hollywood photographer came to Zhangjiajie in 2008 and took pictures that inspired artists who designed the settings of Avatar, Song added.

Zhangjiajie had been a poverty-stricken area before tourism boosted local economy.

"South Sky Pillar is an obscure scenic spot anyway. The fame of Avatar will certainly promote its value," villager Guan Zedong said.

Deng Daoli, who works with Huanglong Cave Investment Co., Ltd, a local tourism company, said, "I would like to talk to Mr. Cameron and his team in China to arrange Avatar brand tourism here."

"Avatar" has sold 1.841 billion U.S. dollars worth of tickets worldwide, making it the biggest international release of all time. It has also become China's most popular movie ever by making around 80 million U.S. dollars here.

"Names of scenic spots often came out of the whims of tourism experts and have no particular meaning or cultural significance. The more market value the better. Obviously, Halleluja is better than South Sky Pillar in this sense," said Li Sheng, a scholar with Wuhan University.

James Cameron, director of Avatar, told the Beijing premiere of Avatar that the alien mountain, where the science fiction took place, came from east China's Mt. Huang.

Cameron's claim was soon challenged by a posting of Internet user "hldddl", who said the Halleluja Mountain was almost identical to South Sky Pillar mountain in his hometown Zhangjiajie. "Hldddl" attached pictures in the posting to back his allegations.

The posting caught the eye of local residents in Zhangjiajie, who held a ceremony and erected a poster of the two pictures on the South Sky Pillar on Monday.

Words like "Pandora is far, but Zhangjiajie is near," and "Welcome to Zhangjiajie to see 'Avatar's Hallelujah Mountains' and discover the real world of Pandora," had appeared on the tourism pages of the municipal government's website, leading to reports of the city having changed the name of the mountain to Halleluja.

Source: Xinhua
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