History of Shangri-La City and The Name of Shangri-La
History of Shangri-La City
History of The Name “Shangri-La” City
At first it seemed like a typically overstated tourist campaign: ‘Shangri-la Found’. Only they weren’t kidding. In November 1997 ‘experts’ had established with ‘certainty’ that the fabled ‘Shangri-la’ of James Hilton’s 1933 bestseller Lost Horizon was, indeed, in Déqīn County.
Hilton’s novel (later filmed by Frank Capra and starring Ronald Coleman and Jane Wyatt) tells the story of four travellers who are hijacked and crash-land in a mountain utopia ruled by a 163-year-old holy man. This ‘Shangri-la’ is in the Valley of the Blue Moon, a beautiful fertile valley backed by a perfect pyramid peak, Mt Karakul.
The claim is based primarily on the fact that Déqīn’s Kawa Karpo peak resembles the ‘pyramid-shaped’ landmark of Mt Karakul. Also, the county’s blood-red valleys with three parallel rivers fit a valley from Lost Horizon.
One plausible theory is that Hilton, writing the novel in northwest London, based his descriptions of Shangri-la on articles by Joseph Rock that he had read in National Geographic magazine, detailing Rock’s expeditions to remote parts of Lìjiāng and Déqīn. Hilton’s invented place name ‘Shangri-la’ may have been a corruption of the word Shambhala, a mystical Buddhist paradise.
After Déqīn staked its claim to the name Shangri-la, rival bids popped up around Yúnnán. Cízhōng in Wēxī County pointed out that its Catholic churches and Tibetan monasteries live side by side in the valley. Meanwhile, Dàochéng, just over the border in Sìchuān, had a strong bid based around the pyramid peak of its mountain Channa Dorje and the fact that Rock wrote about the region in several articles.
Cynics have had a field day with this and the resulting hijacking of the concept, part of which was to establish tourism as an industry to replace logging, which had been banned.
Shangri-la is at its heart surely a metaphor. As a skinny-dipping Jane Wyatt says in the film version of the book: ‘I’m sure there’s a wish for Shangri-la in everyone’s heart…’