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).

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)

Culinary Frictions: Chinese Cuisine and the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Regime

Philipp Demgenski, paper presented at the Sun Yat-sen University Second International Conference on Food and Culture, Guangzhou, China. April 20-22, 2018.

Abstract:

This paper focuses on the so far unsuccessful attempts to inscribe elements of Chinese cuisine on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). Food designated as heritage remains a controversial topic. It has sparked a heated debate among academics and heritage experts, while being embraced by state parties. Despite UNESCO’s ongoing reluctance to consider food-related nominations, many countries have managed to inscribe their cuisines or culinary items on the list (e.g. the French Gastronomic Meal, the Mediterranean diet, Kimchi, Washoku or Naples’ Pizza twirling). In China, a country proud of its culinary tradition and diversity, the question of how to prepare a successful cuisine-related bid has also prominently featured in public discourse. However, the Chinese government, in the form of the Ministry of Culture and its subordinate ICH Department, has not yet chosen to participate in the global race for culinary ICH status. This makes it different from other already successfully inscribed food elements that were mainly top-down state-driven projects. Nevertheless, there are many ICH food nomination initiatives in China coming from private businesses, local governments and the China Cuisine Association (CCA), a commercial association for the Chinese food and catering industry, that try to find ways to indirectly make use of the ICH label and thus capitalize on some of the fame that comes with UNESCO inscription. In this paper, I discuss different actors’ ideas about food and heritage, how they conceive of culinary ICH and for what purposes they are pursuing it. I specifically present ethnographic data on the case of Confucian Family Cuisine (kongfucai), a cuisine that remains strikingly unknown to the general public, but was announced as a potential nomination for the UNESCO Representative list in 2015. It turned out to be an initiative mainly by private actors in Confucius’ birthplace Qufu who wanted to use the UNESCO label for promotion and branding purposes. The way in which actors behind the bid conceived and thought of ICH diverts from the idea of ICH as put forward by UNESCO in that the emphasis rested upon culinary standards, long traditions, techniques and skills and in that the pursuit of the ICH label was mainly for commercial reasons. This paper discusses some of the frictions that exist at the nodes where a global (food) heritage regime intersects with national and local heritage discourses and more fundamentally, also wishes to raise some questions pertaining to the ambiguous stance of UNESCO and the ICH regime towards commercialization and economic development.

 

What did Confucius eat? China’s struggle with culinary heritage

By Philipp Demgenski

Paper presented at the American Folklore Society 2017 Annual Conference in Minneapolis, USA, October 18-21, 2017.

Panel: Traditions in Transition: Intangible Cultural Heritage in Asia

Abstract:

In this paper, I focus on the example of Confucian Family Cuisine (kongfu cai), which was selected as a potential nomination for the UNESCO ICH list, but which also remains strikingly unknown to the general Chinese public. The case reflects a struggle at national and local level, among and within different heritage bodies to get the UNESCO label attached to elements of Chinese cuisine. My paper illustrates some of the frictions that exist at the nodes where a global (food) heritage regime intersects with national and local heritage policies and discourses and also reflects upon some general problems pertaining to the meaning and purpose of food as ICH.

Fossilisation, Commercialisation or Participation? Exhibiting Intangible Cultural Heritage in China

By Philipp Demgenski

Paper presented at the “Museum Collection, Exhibition and Interpretation: in Anthropological Perspective” Museum Anthropology Conference organised the Chinese National Museum of Ethnology, held in Beijing, China, August 1-2, 2017.

Abstract:

The 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage has opened up a discursive space and provided a distinct value framework to state parties, enabling them to conceive, define and appraise their Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). The Convention can thus not merely be seen as a neutral tool to identify and safeguard existing cultural practices and traditions, it has to also be regarded as an active agent in (re)shaping and (re)making “culture” under the label of ICH. In China, for instance, ICH or what is locally known as feiyi (非遗) introduced a new category, a new value system, under which different stakeholders (government, scholars and bearers alike) have been able to operate and get a grip on what was previously indistinctly labelled as “folk culture” (民间文化) or “folk ways” (民俗). It is for this reason that the question of how to exhibit ICH can only be addressed with reference to and within the specific context of the Convention. Based on currently ongoing ethnographic research on the implementation of the Convention in China, in this paper, I discuss different forms and contexts in which ICH is being exhibited and displayed in China. I provide examples from so-called ICH Exposition Parks (非物质文化遗产博览园), Cultural Theme Parks, Ecological and other Museums. I show that the majority of these ways of exhibiting ICH either lead to the fossilisation or to the commercialisation of a given ICH element or to both. I also show that the participation, as defined by the Convention, of the heritage bearers is often only minimal. In this regard, ICH as it manifests itself through exhibitions and displays in China diverts from the spirit of the Convention that particularly emphasises the widest possible participation of ICH communities, groups or individuals in the maintenance, transmission and management of heritage. However, viewed from a different perspective, in the context of China’s larger development and modernisation programme, ICH exhibitions actually offer heritage bearers an opportunity to actively participate in and benefit from national economic development.