Institutionalizing 'living Heritage': Ecomuseum Development In Rural China

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: 423
Oral Presentation
William NITZKY , Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
In 1997, China established its first ecomuseum as a new cultural strategy to safeguard 'living heritage' and develop local cultural economies. China has since experienced a wave of ecomuseum projects across the country, developed as 'museums without walls' encompassing the entire cultural landscape of a locality with a mission to involve the local population in the interpretation, management, and protection of their cultural heritage. The ecomuseum marks an urgent need to address the pressures of modernization on the retention of local cultural traditions and a recent focus of heritage and museum work on intangible heritage protection practices. With the establishment of ecomuseum projects in rural ethnic minority regions, local populations have become subsumed in a new heritage tourism discourse that aims to integrate them and their 'living heritage' as objects and subjects of a modernizing China. In this paper, I offer an ethnographic perspective on the unfolding of the first ecomuseum project in Guangxi in the Yao village of Huaili. Given the emphasis of the project on a community-based approach to safeguard 'living tradition' and promote rural development, I examine how the process of ecomuseum development not only changes the rural locality itself but also the local community's view of its heritage and ability to control it. Particular attention is paid to understanding how the ecomuseum and the intangible heritage discourse impact the local community and shape its value system and identity as multiple forms of imagination and authentication of heritage come into play through the ecomuseum contact space.