Association of Critical Heritage Studies, Hangzhou, China, 1-6 September 2018


Session Title:

The Global Intangible Cultural Heritage Regime and the Politics of Community Participation in China

Philipp Demgenski

Since ratifying the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in 2004, China has embraced local culture as an important resource for domestic social and economic development and has been eagerly submitting its ICH elements to be included in the international lists. In this process, the participation of communities, groups and individuals in heritage safeguarding and management– a key idea and defining feature of the 2003 Convention– must be demonstrated and complied with.

In China, min (民), the word for people, is a central and frequently used term and notions such as “folk culture” (minjian wenhua), “ethnic culture” (minzu wenhua) or “folkways” (minsu) are inherently part of the Chinese ICH discourse. This focus on min as the fundamental component of ICH resonates with the UNESCO concept of “community” as the bearer of heritage. But how and to what extent are the ideas of min and “community” actually similar or different? And how is the concept of “community participation” (shequ canyu) localized in China?

This session discusses and scrutinises how the UNESCO ideas of “community” and “community participation” are translated into practice in China, whether and how they may divert from indigenous understandings and how they are understood, interpreted and utilised at different administrative scales and among different ICH stakeholders, at the national/institutional level, among heritage experts or at the level of so-called communities. We particularly investigate case studies on ICH elements that are prepared by China for submission to UNESCO and on those that have already been inscribed on one of the lists. We also particularly welcome contributions on different geographical regions in China.

This session is based on the premise that the notions of “community” and “participation” are never unproblematic or neutral, but inherently political. So instead of asking questions about the efficacy of community participation in heritage safeguarding or whether communities are really empowered by the Convention, what we would like to address and investigate are questions of what community participation actually means to different ICH stakeholders, how the idea is used and for what purposes, who benefits from it and in what ways. In short, we are looking to gain a better understanding of how the 2003 UNESCO Convention shapes and informs a distinctive politics of community participation at national and local levels in contemporary China.

The Participatory Principle in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and in China: An Introduction (Philipp Demgenski)

Mass Participation and Commodification of Intangible Cultural Heritage: A Case Study of Quyang’s Stone-Carving Skills in Heibei, China. (Prof. Selina Ching Chan)

Fading Divinity and Rising Glory: Rediscovering “Huangshan” in a Heritage Context (Dr. Luo Pan)

“Leaning on the Big Tree, Sheltering with its Shade”: Mazu as Intangible Cultural Heritage and Local Temple Reconstructions (Dr. Huijuan Ma)

Making “Community” in the Context of Patrimonialization: A Case Study of the Dance of Nuo in Leizhou Peninsula (Shanshan Zheng)

Contested Communities: Negotiating the Politics of Participation in Intangible Cultural Heritage Safeguarding in a Yao Village in Guangdong, China (Daina Chen)

Universe, Windmill, Museum: Diverse Ways of Intangible Cultural Heritage Knowledge Production (Wu Jie)