Intangible Cultural Heritage Safeguarding and Marketisation

This special issue is the outcome of an international workshop on “Intangible Cultural Heritage: Reconceptualisation, Uses, Marketisation” held on May 8 and 9, 2019 in Hangzhou, China. It is a joint cooperation between between the “UNESCO Friction” project and the Institute of Anthropology of Zhejiang University. Scholars from different disciplines and geographical regions explore questions related to the challenge of using intangible cultural heritage as a market resource.

Short summery (Chinese):

2003年《保护非物质文化遗产公约》颁布实施后,各缔约国基于各自的国情和文化立场,践行各种形式的保护行动。当国际标准遇到各个国家各自的遗产制度时,经常出现被挪用,重新解释,甚至被改变的情形。非物质文化遗产的商业化和经济考虑是一个经常被讨论的问题。本期专刊立足于《非遗公约》在全球和地方的具体实践,从跨国界、跨学科和跨文化的视角,通过个案研究的实证方式,从概念诠释、专属权、国家政策、司法实践和代表性传承人的商业实践等视角,审视和检讨非遗商业化的现象、过程、特征及其社会后果。本期专刊五篇文章选自2019年5月在中国杭州召开的由浙江大学人类学研究所与法国巴黎高等社会科学学院(EHESS)的“联合国教科文组织Friction”项目合作举办的“非物质文化遗产:再概念化、利用与市场化”的参会论文。专刊论文不在于寻求非遗商业化的价值判断,而是希望因此引起批判和反思非遗商业化过程中,隐匿在不同行动者之间的认知差异和实践背后的社会机制和行动逻辑,以推进非遗保护的可持续性发展。(刘朝晖 Philipp Demgenski)


Culinary Tensions: Chinese Cuisine’s Rocky Road toward International Intangible Cultural Heritage Status

Demgenski, Philipp. 2020. “Culinary Tensions: Chinese Cuisine’s Rocky Road toward International Intangible Cultural Heritage Status.Asian Ethnology 79 (1): 115–35.


This article focuses on the so-far unsuccessful attempts to inscribe elements of Chinese cuisine on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Food designated as heritage has sparked a heated debate among academics and heritage experts, while being embraced by state parties. In China, food-related ICH nomination initiatives have come mainly from private businesses, local governments, and the China Cuisine Association. Only recently have national-level ICH experts taken several initiatives to make Chinese culinary ICH fit the ideas of the Convention, thus making it a potential candidate for a submission to UNESCO. This article discusses different actors’ ideas about food and heritage, how they conceive of culinary ICH, and for what purposes they are pursuing it. The story of Chinese food-related ICH is one of commercialization and the mushrooming cultural industry, but it is also very much a story about different understandings of the concept of ICH and provides insights into how a global concept gets localized in China and is appropriated by different governmental and non-governmental actors, to then be realigned and adapted again to fit the criteria for international inscription.


“When it Comes to Intangible Cultural Heritage, Everyone is Always Happy” Some Thoughts on the Chinese Life of a UNESCO Convention


Demgenski, Philipp. 2020. “When It Comes to Intangible Cultural Heritage, Everyone Is Always Happy” Some Thoughts on the Chinese Life of a UNESCO Convention.” Contemporary China Centre Blog. April 22, 2020.

Proving participation: vocational bureaucrats and bureaucratic creativity in the implementation of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage

Bortolotto, Chiara, Philipp Demgenski, Panas Karampampas, and Simone Toji. 2020. “Proving Participation: Vocational Bureaucrats and Bureaucratic Creativity in the Implementation of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.” Social Anthropology 28 (1): 66–82.

This paper investigates the bureaucratisation of the (utopian) ideal of community participation in Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) safeguarding and management. The analysis considers the whole ‘policy life’ of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of ICH. Our ethnographic examples from UNESCO, Brazil, China and Greece illustrate how bureaucratic operations often disenchant the participatory ideal, alienating it from its original intention. At the same time, driven by their commitment to ‘good’ governance and informed by sentiments of frustration and disappointment with actual policy results, vocational bureaucrats at different administrative levels experiment with and conceive of new tools in order to produce evidence of participation. We demonstrate how this bureaucratic creativity has concrete consequences, which may differ from the intended utopia, but nevertheless bring to life particular interpretations of the participatory principle among the recipients for whom heritage policies were originally designed. Thus, we present a more nuanced picture of bureaucratisation in which officials’ emotions and engagement sustain their agency against structural constraints as well as the futility and fragility of administrative procedures.

International Workshop on “Intangible Cultural Heritage: Reconceptualization, Uses, Marketization” (18.-19. May 2019, Hangzhou, China)

The UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage heralded the beginning of a new era pertaining to global (and local) cultural politics. It clearly departed from previous, more rigid definitions and understandings of cultural heritage, instead promoting an understanding of culture as evolving, integrated, subjective and diverse. According to the Convention, it is the communities, groups and individuals—the heritage “bearers”, not experts—that define ICH, imbue it with meaning and value and work towards its safeguarding and management. Today, the Convention has already been ratified by almost 180 State Parties and the concept of ICH is globally operational. However, as the international standard encounters respective national heritage regimes, many controversies and tensions arise pertaining to its interpretation, translation and actual implementation at local levels. Heritage actors in different countries are often struggling to reconcile already existing heritage frameworks with the principles of the ICH Convention, which frequently results in the global standard being subject to transformation and reconceptualization in its implementation process.

The challenges and paradoxes become particularly noticeable in the encounter between the abstract ideal and the concrete uses and manifestations of ICH. One specific and often-discussed issue here concerns the marketization and economic considerations in and of ICH. This is because ICH is by definition “living heritage,” it belongs to its “bearers” and is deeply entangled with their daily lives. Unlike tangible heritage, it is also explicitly allowed to change over time. Hence, as long as it is some “bearers’” wish, marketization may be perfectly in line with the spirit of ICH. At the same time, however, heritage policy-makers, administrators and experts often stress that uses of ICH for the market must be avoided, with the boundaries between what might be acceptable degrees of marketization and what would be over-marketization remaining anything but clear-cut. Similar situations and debates exist pertaining to the issue of staging ICH, which often detaches cultural practices from their original environments and contexts and explicitly turns ICH into a tourism resource.

This workshop is the outcome of a collaboration between the “UNESCO Friction” project based at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, France and the Institute of Anthropology of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. Researchers on both sides have engaged in empirical studies on how the concept of ICH is operationalized and put into practice, including the many challenges that this involves. The “UNESCO Friction” project explicitly traces the social life of the UNESCO 2003 Convention, investigating the entire policy chain that links the international arena with national heritage institutions and local heritage programs in China, Greece and Brazil. Researchers at Zhejiang University have conducted studies on how ICH is implemented in China at national and local levels. We both believe in an engaged approach to the study of ICH and so this workshop is designed to bring together different actors involved in the ICH field—scholars, administrators, policy-makers and “bearers”—to engage in a discussion and exchange about the tensions that exist between the normative ideas and principles underlying ICH on the one hand and its uses and manifestations on the other. The workshop aims at generating a better understanding of what the challenges are that different involved actors at different levels face in bringing to life an idea that was conceived at the global level and subsequently travels down to national and local levels, often being appropriated, reinterpreted and even transformed in the process. Specifically, the workshop wants to understand: how do different ICH actors at different (administrative) levels and in different capacities

  • reconceptualize ICH?
  • use ICH for the market in the context of its safeguarding and management?
  • evaluate/assess the marketization of ICH?

To address these questions, the workshop includes, but is not limited to the following five themes:

  1. Understandings of ICH and its market uses at different (administrative) levels.
  2. Community participation: marketization as heritage self-determination.
  3. Staging intangible cultural heritage and tourism.
  4. Transmitters of ICH: Benefits, reputation and competition.
  5. Cultural Industry: Intangible Cultural Heritage Production-oriented Safeguarding Bases (非物质文化遗产生产性保护基地).