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Sojourn as a new societal trend

DENG YONGYONG | 2022-08-25 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

A few elderly people dance under the warm winter Sun in Sanya, Hainan Province, which is popular among house buyers from the Northern part of China. Photo: CFP

With the improvement of people’s leisure time and as cross-cultural exchanges intensify, there is more and more academic research on the phenomenon of sojourn. Sojourn is a social phenomenon that emerges when human society develops to a certain stage. It reflects people’s pursuit of a higher life quality. As the main object of sojourn research, sojourners are an important part of researchers and companies’ focus. The number of both theoretical and practical studies on sojourners has increased rapidly. Study of sojourners not only helps to understand the root causes and motives of sojourn phenomenon, but also provides empirical support for the development of sojourn destinations or sojourn societies.

Identity recognition
Early studies define sojourners as “strangers who have lived in a country for many years but remain unassimilated.” With this definition, sojourn is considered a transnational phenomenon. It is mostly discussed in the context of international travel and studies correspond to the country of residence (or host country). To better understand the term “sojourner,” researchers have distinguished this particular group of people from related concepts such as migrants, tourists, strangers, and marginalized persons. There is no unified definition of “sojourner,” as the term has rich cultural meanings and there are differences in the development and essence of different disciplines.
For example, in literary studies, the term “sojourner” first appeared in The Sojourner, a short story written by Carson McCullers in 1950. In the story, the author put her confusion about her identity into her literary creation. She defined sojourners as wanderers or exiles who move between their homeland and foreign lands. In communication studies, sojourners have dual identities, one from their original culture and the other influenced by the culture of their new place of residence. They bear unique historical missions and tasks and are regarded as cultural communicators. In tourism studies, sojourners are a new migration phenomenon in tourism development, and the connotation of the term “sojourners” is similar to that of “tourist immigration.”   
Using Aristotle’s definition of “genus plus species,” this paper argues that sojourners are temporary immigrants who reside temporarily in other countries for certain purposes, and eventually return to their homeland. These people expect to return home at any time and resist assimilation into the host country. The “temporary migrants” is the “genus” in the definition, reflecting the transient nature of sojourners in a foreign land. At the same time, it also indicates that, as a special category of strangers, sojourners do not belong to the same category of locals  as to local residents.
In recent years, China’s aging problem and the development of the aging industry have given rise to a new sojourn phenomenon, specifically, domestic sojourning. On the one hand, aging has become an inevitable trend in the development of human society. In China, although the “two-child policy” has been implemented, the care of elderly parents by their one child will still be an important issue for our society to face in the coming period. 
On the other hand, as people’s incomes increase, the trend of elderly residents purchasing houses or signing short-term leases in other places is on the rise, especially in small, beautiful cities in southern China, or  by the sea, has become a popular choice for retiring citizens, in locations such as Sanya, Hainan; Weihai, Shandong; and Lijiang Yunnan in recent years. In this context, the study of sojourners is no longer limited to transnational sojourners, as traditionally studied, as it has also become a unique phenomenon that occurs between regions within the same country. 
In contrast to transnational sojourners, this group can be considered domestic sojourners, and there are both commonalities and differences between the two groups. Commonalities are that both groups are transient in their sojourn and are strangers to the place of sojourn; from the perspective of difference, the motivation of sojourn and the quality of sojourn life are different.
Selecting residences
Sojourners’ choice of place of residence is subject to many factors. Not all areas have the potential to become a destination. Generally, the climate and environment play a decisive role in the selection of a destination. 
For example, the countryside is an important destination for travelers because of its ecological resources and natural environment. As a place for sojourn after retirement, the countryside is suitable for living, developing businesses, and tourism, which gives it an advantage in development. The nature of the countryside is an important driver for sojourn in the countryside. 
In addition, socioeconomic conditions are another factor that restrict the choice of location for sojourn. Socioeconomic conditions affect the quality of life for sojourners and have an important impact on local development. For example, some seaside cities enjoy obvious advantages in urbanization thanks to good economic conditions created by tourism. This creates a favorable environment for sojourners’ lifestyles.
Further, culture is also a factor that sojourners consider. For example, because of their traditional culture, some minority areas are suitable for sojourners focused on spirituality and have become important relocation areas, such as sojourners in Tibet. 
Some common social phenomena can be found in the choice of residences: first, it is increasingly common for sojourners to purchase or rent houses in places of sojourn; second, elderly sojourners mainly aim to obtain health care and elderly services, achieve physical and mental health, or to pursue a new type of elderly life; third, the places of sojourn mainly develop based on traditional tourism and elderly-care industries, and pursue integration between related industries with development of elderly-care destinations as the core.
Building a sojourn society
Sojourn society is a high level interpretation of sojourn life. As sojourn has become commonplace, a solid foundation has been laid for the development of a sojourn society. The study of sojourn society should become an important field in the future. The 2017 White Paper on Tourism Development in Sanya pointed out that “Sanya has taken on the characteristics of a sojourn society and has taken the lead in entering such a society.” 
However, how do travelers and locals coexist in a sojourn society, and what kind of production and living state does this coexistence form? The formation process of a sojourn society or the inner mechanism of a sojourn society still needs to be studied in depth.
This paper argues that as a future social form, sojourn society is formed by the long-term interaction between the sojourners and the places of sojourn. It involves a dynamic development process from one node to the whole society. First comes the formation of sojourn industries. These industries evolve around the motivation, production, and life development of sojourners, such as health, elderly care, leisure, and vacation. The purpose is to better serve the sojourners. 
The second stage is the formation of a sojourn industrial chain, namely, development of a complete industrial chain around the sojourners. Sojourners and locals enjoy the same development rights under the premise of meeting the basic needs of the people. 
The third stage is the formation of a living space for sojourners, namely, promoting the development of living spaces for sojourners based on the sojourn industrial chain. Different places might have their own development types or models based on their own characteristics. At this stage, the living space consists of three parties: the sojourners, the locals, and the government, with the sojourners and the locals showing a balanced population structure and the government still focusing on the locals. 
The final stage is the formation of a sojourn society. With the continuous improvement of the industrial chain and the living space, the number of sojourners increases, and eventually the number of sojourners exceeds that of the locals. At this moment, government’s focus changes from a traditional focus on locals to a new balance of both locals and sojourners.
From the perspective of future research, as an important group of people in the host community, sojourners are bound to have an impact on the industrial development of host communities and local spaces. In turn, cultural adaptation, psychological adjustment, and survival strategies for the sojourners are inevitably influenced by various factors in the host community. 
Therefore, it is important to pay attention to the mutual influence relationship between sojourners and the host community, which is an important topic in future research. This will help to correctly view the phenomenon of sojourning and objectively evaluate the sojourner community. It is also of great practical significance in promoting communication, understanding, and respect between different cultures. 
In addition, future development and management of the sojourn society is also an important research topic, such as urban construction, cultural heritage, and population management of sojourn societies.
Deng Yongyong is from the School of Social Science at Soochow University. 
Edited by WENG RONG