Built Heritage and Agency

Outline/abstract for thesis

Critical Study into the Contraditions and Reconciliations between Canonical and Continuous Built Heritage Models in China, using Xiaozhou Village as an Example

1. Introduction

    1. Background: built heritage in China is both canonical and continuous
    2. Problem: dead and commercialised heritage cities and urban streets, displacement of living communities and gentrification of migrants
    3. Proposal:
      1. Reconcile the two conflicting models
    4. Relevance: move into continuous heritage models in both developing countries (intangible heritage), developed countries (more participatory heritage processes)
    5. Method: ethnographic research in Xiaozhou Village, used as a case study
    6. Suggestion: reconcile through idea of agency, building craft

2. What is heritage

    1. Relationship between past and present, consequences
    2. Processes of heritage, not just material
    3. Types of heritage
      1. Official (canonical, tangible)
      2. Unofficial (everyday, intangible)

3. Canonical model of heritage

    1. What is canonical model of built heritage
      1. Official
      2. Material/tangible/uniqueness (material)
    2. Why (intention)
      1. As a technique of power (agency of narrative)
      2. Risk, vulnerability and value (recipient of the narrative of modernity)
    3. How (method)
      1. Selection criteria: difference/opposition (agency)
      2. Identification and categorisation
      3. Justification through risk and vulnerability
      4. Control through bureaucracy
    4. Example
      1. Museum development of buildings and landscape (garden)
      2. Stylistic replication of buildings and streets
    5. Issues with the canonical model
      1. Exclusive & unrepresentational (not intended)
        1. Social exclusion
        2. Gentrification

4. Continuous model of heritage

    1. What is the continuous model of heritage
      1. Unofficial
      2. Immaterial/intangible/everyday (use/construction)
    2. Why (intention)
      1. Traditions based on kinship
    3. How (method)
      1. Selection criteria: continuity (agency)
      2. Social appropriateness (use and disuse)
      3. Passing down of practice/use of space
    4. Example
      1. Dragon boat festival and continuous uses of space
      2. Use and disuse of traditions (no risk/vulnerability)
    5. Issues with the continuous model
      1. Selective agency: selection criteria is based on continuity/use (agency)
        1. Discards according to use and disuse
      2. Practice is replicable and hence inclusive
        1. Example: building crafts and apprenticeships


5. Relationship between the two models of heritage

    1. Conflict:
      1. Different vs. Continuity (selection criteria)
        1. Canonical heritage is always looking for difference (outside)
        2. Continuous heritage is always looking for continuity (inside)
      2. Uniqueness vs. Everyday (value judgement)
      3. Built heritage: value in materiality vs less in the construction process/use
        1. Why is craft ignored?
    2. Reconciliation:
      1. Process of selection is always relational (agency)
        1. Change the content of ‘difference’
      2. Identify continuous model of heritage as a canonical heritage
        1. Selective agency (heritage is always a process of selection)
      3. Building construction craft (jiang)
      4. Active tourist
        1. Recipients of the canonical heritage model, participating in a continuity through active use of buildings in performance
        2. But is there the active tourist in China?


As in many developing countries in Asia, heritage is understood through both material and non-material forms. The literature surrounding tangible and intangible heritage is growing and becoming increasingly important in understanding the definition, exhibition and management of heritage. In Chinese cities, built heritage is increasingly being identified and listed.

However, the direct consequences of this process are often commercial redevelopments following a theme park-like model or the exclusion and ultimately gentrification of existing communities. These consequences are well documented in Chinese urban literature.