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January 29, 2010

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Officials deny renaming mountain after 'Avatar'

AUTHORITIES of the tourist city of Zhangjiajie in south China's Hunan Province, denied yesterday 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.

The anger was sparked by reports that Zhangjiajie had 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, 54,619 respondents condemned the renaming while only 5,897 supported it.

Even a survey held by Hunan portal,, showed disapproval, with 71 percent voting against it and only 21 percent showing approval.

"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."

"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.

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

Zhangjiajie was a poor area before tourism boosted the 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 a local tourism company, said, "I would like to talk to Director James Cameron and his team in China to arrange 'Avatar'-brand tourism here."

"Avatar" has sold US$1.8 billion in tickets worldwide, the biggest international box office ever. It has also become China's biggest-ever movie by making around US$80 million on the Chinese mainland.


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