Tom Cruise Lingers on in China



I visited Xitang in 2002. It was a little less famous then; it hadn’t even started charging admission for entrance through its gates. It was just one of many charming little water towns in Zhejiang Province, but it especially appealed to foreign and domestic tourists. The town was more than happy to accept the increasing tourism.

When Tom Cruise came to China to film Mission Impossible 3, part of the movie was filmed in Xitang. Xitang closed down for the filming. It had hit the big time.

One of my co-workers visited Xitang recently. He said its rustic charm is now “enhanced” by the posters of Tom Cruise everywhere. Curious, I had to do a search. This is what I found:

Tom Cruise in Xitang

Tom Cruise in Xitang

So now Xitang is “that little water town with pictures of Tom Cruise all over it.” This doesn’t bother me; it just amuses me somewhat. Things change, but everyone still just wants to make a buck.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Haha, I recently went to the nearby Tongli (Jiangsu, as opposed to Zhejiang) and though there were no pictures of Tom, even the October weather didn’t detour a lot of tourists. These tourist towns are weird from the get-go. It’s odd paying money to go into a town where people live so you can take photos of them washing their clothes and such. The scenery was nice, but it was all a bit surreal.

    On IMDb they list Zhouzhuang as the watertown used for filming the “canal” scenes. Did IMDb get it wrong, or is Xitang cashing in on something they shouldn’t be? Both have just as much probability of being true.

  2. Looks like the owner of the courtyard is using the same marketing strategy as the owners of the Terracotta Warriors grounds in Xian – a big poster of Hillary and Bill Clinton resides outside the struction housing the Terracotta Warriors, much like the MI3 poster does in the courtyard. This is also the same strategy as Mr. Aoki who plasters b&w photos of himself with stars and famous people in his waiting areas of Bennihana restaurants. Everyone does it for the $$$ and that’s perhaps the consequence of a socialist country turning towards the imperialist/capitalist structure of Western countries.

  3. well, the whole Xitang is a monument to Tom Cruise, as a real round-the-world cruise.

  4. Is that, “Imperialist, divided by capitalist”??? Anyway having recently been to Xi’an, all I recall having seen was some small sign off to the side, showing a few visiting dignitaries…it certainly wasn’t a dedication of the terra cotta warriors to the Clintons, or an attempt to drum up more business for the Terra Cotta warrior site.

    The obvious criticism is the bizarrely large shopping center going up, to the rear of the site. Do they really expect to fill it up?

  5. @Jeff: Fill up a shopping centre beside the housing of the Terracotta Warriors’ housing? In a second.

    Suggested names:
    “Qin Qing! Shopping Emporium”
    “On Sacred Ground Outlet Mall”
    “Qinmart: Hypermart of History”

  6. Theo Vermeulen Says: November 22, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    Some advice on visiting the Terracotta Warriors. DO NOT hire one of the guides at the front gate to take you through the exhibits. We did and they RACE you through all the exhibits so they can get you to the souvenir shop at the end! 🙂 Welcome to China! 🙂

  7. “DO NOT hire one of the guides at the front gate to take you through the exhibits.”

    I guess it depends on who you are with, because I had exactly the opposite experience. The first time I went I hired a Chinese language guide and had a really nice chat with her. Then when my folks came a year later we got an English language guide who turned out to be something like 5 months pregant.

    Those tour guides have tough jobs. Not only are they on their feet all day (and that is a huge complex), but they’re about as put-upon as cab drivers when it comes to exploitative government-run licensing systems. It isn’t as if anyone can show up at those places and start running tours. Xian has a licensing system for the guides and the parks jack-up the admission prices to make sure no-one can compete independently.

    Back on topic, MI3 was excrutiatingly boring, but the film gets some points for having Tom Cruise yelling in broken mandarin while running along the waterfront. I never did figure out exactly why the Philip Seymour Hoffman character took Cruise’s girlfriend to that rundown dentist’s office though. Surely any villian worth his salt would be able to find a more upscale 公寓. Or be able to store their hostage in a room with a lock on the door….

  8. Man, I was at Xitang a couple of years ago too, and it was really nice. (Well — the old parts of the city were nice; the new parts were standard-issue grim chunk-ist architecture, and to get there I had to wait for a few hours in Jiaxing, which I’m pretty sure is the anus of the universe, to get a bus.) Maybe Cruise-mania will pass in a few years.

  9. A guide isn’t needed anyway. Not much to talk about: “In 1973 some farmers discovered some pottery and upon further research the warriors were discovered. In China’s rush to show it off to the world Pit #1 was opened shortly thereafter (on October 1st of course, yawn) to the public followed by the exceedingly boring Pits #2 and #3. The rest of the complex probably covers more artifacts, but hey we can make some serious money on what we’ve already unearthed. Full stop. Thanks for visiting.”

  10. A guide nor a visit to the actual “pits” is needed. You can buy your own replica Terracotta Warrior from the local outdoor garden store, and make your own Terracotta Warrior Army so you will forever ride imperial style through the afterlife. I don’t know about the 100% mercury tonic, but while we’re going after the excess, go for it.

  11. I was in Xi’an a few months ago, and the shopping centre under construction is more like a shopping city. But there’ll be accommodation too, I think. Most of Xi’an’s most popular tourist sights, including the terracotta warriors and Hua Mountain, are all to the east of the city itself. Even the airport is out that way, as I recall. Plus, traffic in the city is hell. So for some tourists, booking a suite in that new development would actually be very convenient…the city of Xi’an itself would become just another day-trip.

    (We caught a bus from the train station to Hua Mountain: after waiting for passengers, being invited to attend a sales spiel on herbal medicines, and being driven quickly past a bunch of smaller restaurants up to an extremely over-priced dining hall, it was well into the afternoon when we finally arrived at the base of the mountain).

    Personally, I’m pretty fond of Xi’an, so I’d still prefer to book accommodation in the city. Presumably staying in the city is a bit cheaper, since there is more competition…but then again, who knows? Finding budget accommodation in Xi’an is already next to impossible.

  12. Cant beat the grand mosque in Xian though – and the imam owns a kebab shop two doors down!

  13. Xi’an has some great atmosphere in the old alleys around the muslim quarter, and good street food as well. I’m an immense fan of yang-rou pao-mo, so that’s another benefit.

    In terms of cheap places to stay, there’s actually a decent hostel right in the middle of town, at the bell tower square, on the north side, above a post office or something. Clean and not too bad . . . .

  14. marlie warren Says: March 11, 2007 at 9:03 am

    I just got back from China where we toured for 8 days. One of our stops was Xitang where Tom Cruise filmed the movie mission Impossible 3. Although very rustic, it was a most interesting place to visit. Although we americans are the MINORITY the people are very good to put up with us and our walking directly through their living spaces. It was SO interesting to see everything! They probably don’t even KNOW that they are as poor as they are! The city charged us to enter – someone said it was because Tom cruise had filmed the movie there. I loved seeing China and the people….

  15. actually, Tom Cruise’s pictures are not posted everywhere in xi’tang.
    xi’tang is my hometown, the last time i went back is on March.
    anyway, the business sense is stronger nowaday, it will lose some of its unique style in this way.

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