Reclaiming Identity and (Re)Materializing Pasts: Approaches to Heritage Conservation in China


The 2016 International Symposium on ‘Reclaiming Identity and (Re)Materializing Pasts: Approaches to Heritage Conservation in China’ invites academics and practitioners worldwide to contribute critiques and case studies on the current practice of cultural heritage conservation in China.

Modern China reawakened its interest in heritage protection in the late 1970s – as a counter to the widespread destruction and the catastrophic loss of its cultural assets during the Cultural Revolution. Following the introduction of the Law on Protection of Cultural Relics in 1982 and the country’s ratification of UNESCO Convention in 1985, the state government has certified cultural heritage through national legislation and nomination and, in the meanwhile, has increasingly devolved both power and responsibility for the heritage
conservation and its finance to the local authorities. The scope of heritage protection has been expanded significantly over the past four decades – from archeological sites to conservation areas, from monumental to ordinary, from tangible to intangible, and from urban to rural heritage. Arguably, the economic reform since 1978 and the subsequent urbanisation have been a double-edged sword that, on the one hand, has helped to finance the preservation of historic monuments and sites of national importance; but, on the other hand, has threatened the existence of historical structures and settlements of local interests, conflicting with the state government’s
pronouncement on safeguarding its cultural assets.

The current practice of heritage conservation in China, however, is full of paradox and ambiguity. This stems from, in part, the devolution of heritage management to the local authorities, whose mindset has centered much around heritage commodification, city branding and economic returns; as well as, in part, from the marked increase in both domestic and international heritage-based tourism rising at the turn of the 21st century. While national heritage icons such as Great Wall and Forbidden City were meticulously preserved, the lost “old” city walls and gates were recently re-erected in several historic cities such as Beijing, Suzhou and Datong to revoke the glory of the imperial past. Whereas the embedded economic values of industrial heritage in Shanghai were unveiled and exploited to reform the city’s economic structure by converting former industrial sites into a breeding ground for creative industries, numerous pseudo-historical buildings and scenes were fabricated in historic cities, towns and villages across the country for tourism development or political persuasion. Such examples of present-day conservation practice in China are a reflection of how the country conceptualises the notion of heritage, the wider role of heritage in urban and rural regeneration and its contemporary use for utilitarian or ideological purposes.

Set within the context of international shifts in heritage discourse and practice, we are looking for contributions that explore the intricacies of Chinese notions of ‘heritage’ as they have evolved from European based concepts. Papers may question whether the adoption of Western conservation philosophy and approaches are appropriate for China and whether they pose practical challenges or tensions. Contributions are likely to be contextualised by wider theoretical debates in heritage and/or planning studies such as the sanitised, expert-led, grand narratives of the authorised heritage discourse, the (mis)recognition of community heritage, or how ‘emotions’ should or should not find a place of semblance within contemporary processes of contemporary heritage conservation.

Papers may choose to focus on the economic commodification, ‘Disneyfication’ or ‘McDonaldisation’ of mass heritage tourism, which has led to what some consider a ‘false’ depiction of the past. Other examples may focus on urban heritage as a component of the territorial capital of places, synonymous with the objective of urban
regeneration, whereas others may expose the conflicting nature of conservation-led regeneration in the Chinese context.

Important dates

Deadline for abstract submission: Friday 16 October 2015
Notification of abstract acceptance: Monday 16 November 2015
Deadline for presentation paper: Friday 22 January 2016
Notification for presentation paper: Monday 22 February 2016
Symposium: Wednesday 6 April to Friday 8 April 2016
Final paper: Friday 10 June 2016

Scientific board

Professor Pierre-Alain Croset, Department of Architecture, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
Professor Barry Godfrey, School of Law and Social Justice, University of Liverpool
Professor David Goodman, Department of China Studies, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
Professor John Pendlebury, School of Architecture Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University
Dr Giulio Verdini, Institute of Urbanisation, Department of Urban Planning and Design, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University

Organising committee

Dr Yiwen Wang, Department of Urban Planning and Design, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
Dr Carol Ludwig, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Liverpool
Dr Yiping Dong, Department of Architecture, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University


Paper submission: [email protected]
General enquiry: [email protected]

Paper submissions

The symposium invites original papers for submission that address and/or challenge the following questions under the proposed three sub-themes:

Sanitised Narratives of Heritage

This sub-theme explores the ways in which historic places or heritage sites are interpreted and re-materialised in the present so to construct narratives of cultural belonging and identity, and/or the strategies and measures employed in heritage management to validate a sanitised narrative of the Reinterpreted Past.

Examples include archeological sites, national monuments, historic cities or towns etc. where site interpretation is curated in a way for the visitor to recall, resonate a particular period of the past, or from the perspective of an imagined cohesive nation that is consisted of a range of heterogeneous ethnical groups and social classes.

The Reinvented Past

Pseudo-historical structures that were built according to archival records or purely based on contemporary imagination so to recall what was once lost, or has never ever existed in the past, for the gaze of tourists or for the suppression of dissent.

The Disremembered Past

Examples include sites of controversy associated with the inglorious past and deliberately concealed by the authorities and/or case studies on radical reuse of historical buildings where traces and memories of the past use are largely wiped out.

Politics of Heritage

This sub-theme examines the political role of heritage and focuses on the extrinsic values of historical buildings and places, where heritage is deemed a process of political choices and negotiation about what relics of the past are chosen to be remembered (or forgotten) and protected and by whom.

Contested Heritage

Is there a consensus on what Chinese heritage is? Does dissonance surround the term? Are the sanctioned heritage narratives about the nation and national identity challenged by the identity claim of sub-cultural or social groups in contemporary societies?

Democratisation of Heritage

What is the role of local communities in heritage decision-making, identification, designation or management? How do we delineate and disentangle the ownership of heritage, analyse the composition of effected stakeholders and measure the impact on them due to the change exerted on a historical structure or place?

Unorthodox Chinese-ness

Does cultural heritage protection in China heighten an orthodox sense of Chinese-ness that originates from some
geopolitically dominant Chinese cultures and is vehemently opposed to the Western imperialism or other Asian influence? Are there cultural particularities, though intangible, that are inherited from traditional cultures of marginalised social or cultural groups yet remain inherent in contemporary societies, thus possibly being seen as unorthodox heritage?

Commodification of Heritage

This sub-theme explores the notion of heritage as “cultural goods”; commodities to be bought and sold as part of the tourism industry. Papers may draw on the notion of a false or erroneous depiction of the past which questions the Western understanding of authenticity. Questions may relate to:

Selling the Past/Place

What are the approaches to the commercialisation of historic places and the commoditisation of cultures in China? What are the consequences?

Valorisation of Heritage

Are conservation and regeneration/urban growth deemed complimentary or conflicting? Who are the key actors? What is the role of the public and private sector and through what mechanisms is cultural heritage valorised in China?

Disneyfication of Heritage

How has the customer-orientated models of heritage management resulted in the theme park-like heritage sites? How has the over-emphasis on tourist experiences obscured or distorted our understanding of what heritage is, what it means to us, and our sense of self? What does this mean for authenticity and honesty?

The symposium will be a two day event with a limited number of presentations, plus a day tour in Suzhou city centre. It will be of interest to scholars, practitioners and PhD students in urban planning, architecture, cultural studies, sociology and geography as well as those in the field of urban conservation and heritage planning.

Registration fees

The full registration fee is RMB 1,000 (RMB 600 for students), including all the symposium materials and meals. There is a supplement charge of RMB 600 for the city trip in Suzhou. Registration fee can be paid via Bank transfer. Please note that the administrative charge by the bank should be covered by participants, and US dollar is preferable for international transfer.

  • Full fee for attendance with city tour RMB 1600/USD 250
  • Full fee for attendance without city tour RMB 1000/USD 155
  • Reduced fee for student attendance with city tour RMB 1200/USD 190
  • Reduced fee for student attendance without city tour RMB 600/USD 95

Bank transfer details

Note: When transferring payment, please write 'HoC + Your Name' as a reference for us to identify for which the payment is intended.

For domestic transfer (payment in Chinese Yuan)

Name of recipient: 西交利物浦大学
Account number: 7323010182400039389
Bank and branch: 中信银行苏州分行

For international transfer (payment in US Dollar)

Name of recipient: Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University
Account number: 10551314040002014
Bank and branch: Agricultural Bank of China, Suzhou Industrial Park Sub-Branch
Bank address: No. 151 Cuiyuan Road, Suzhou Industrial Park, Suzhou, China, 215021
Tel: +86 (0)512 66600155
Fax: +86 (0)512 66600151

Note: Registration is open until 30 March 2016. No refund will be made after registration is closed. All enquiries about registration should be made to [email protected].

Symposium venue

EB133, Engineering Building
Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University
111 Ren Ai Road
Dushu Lake Higher Education Town
Suzhou Industrial Park
Suzhou, Jiangsu, 215123