The Linden Center: Pioneers in Sustainable Tourism

We spent the day in Dali before taking a thirty-minute bus ride to The Linden Center in Xizhou 喜州, a small Bai village about one kilometer from Erhai Lake.  I had no expectations for what The Linden Center would look like. It was a weird concept—a Chinese protected heritage site turned into a luxury hotel. It sounded so contradictory to tradition. And to top it off, it was run by an American couple, who I assumed were just chasing profit and the Chinese consumers’ pocket books. As we walked down a cement road to the Center, a long-haired man in baggy clothing approached us. “Hi, my name is Brian Linden,” he said. I soon learned that all my assumption were completely baseless.

He brought us down the road to a sprawling courtyard mansion, surrounded on three sides by vibrant-colored rice paddies. After we settled into our rooms, Brian sat us down in the courtyard and told us his story. Brian had come from a poor Chicago background and was brought to China by the CCP on a scholarship to Beijing University. Without exaggeration, he credits the Chinese government with changing his life. Because of his time in China in the 1980s, Linden was awarded prestigious opportunities working with American media companies and was eventually accepted as a PhD candidate at Stanford University.

Brian and his wife Jeannie have dedicated their time in China to championing sustainable tourism that respects and preserves local minority culture. They work tirelessly on their own ventures, while committing to support local businesses and communities as well. The Lindens’ boutique hotel, which has no more than 20 guest rooms, employs 55 local staff members. The kitchen offers dishes made from local ingredients and guest activities often engage the Xizhou community. I came to learn that the courtyard we were sitting in was only one of three sites that comprise the Center. The other site consisted of higher-end, family style suites. The third site was primarily used for housing students. The Lindens host hundreds of students every year to teach about their business practices.

I will admit that even after my initial judgments about the Lindens and their hotel were shattered, I was still somewhat skeptical of Brian’s continuous praise for the Chinese Communist Party. A major part of why the Lindens are allowed to conduct business on a Chinese heritage site is because of Brian’s amicable relationship with the CCP. During his introduction to us, Brian told us how he felt indebted to the CCP for giving his life meaning after he first came to China. He joked not to think he was “brainwashed” by the government. I will note, however, that when I asked him where his allegiance to the government ended, Brian sternly denounced the CCP’s use of censorship. Brian is definitely in the camp of thinkers that believes China deserves a peaceful rise in global power. In his early life, he was let down by American social welfare programs and the Chicago public school system. But once he came to China, he was able to make a name for himself.

Our group’s stay at the Linden Center gave an interesting perspective for some of the students who might feel overwhelmed by the cultural differences of a Communist country. Brian and Jeannie are not dissenters of democracy, but rather open-minded entrepreneurs.  Brian’s story is not political. He came to China because they saw value in him, and he has dedicated his life to teaching others to value China as well.

Bai-style reflecting wall in The Linden Center