From street display to online discourse: the spatial trajectories of heritage as a resource for Chinese politics   

Ca’ Foscari University of Venice  

Heritage in China is constantly scrutinized by the party-state whose leadership is exercised also at the cultural level by imposing forms of revivals, historical continuity and timeless oblivion. With the introduction of Reform and Opening-up Policies in the early 1980s and the progressive mass alienation from its own heritage, represented as a source of backwardness, Chinese society has entered a conjunctural space of crisis where communal and personal values, memory, and history appeared as highly fragmented and therefore unusable against the then perceived advance of culture from the global North. Seizing the question of Chinese cultural uniqueness in the face of the intercultural nuances of contemporary global history, the centralized politics started a process of selective display of cultural representations that reinvest the heritage of symbolic power.

Drawing on this premise, this paper analyses the spatial trajectory of heritage visualization in China as the phenomenon has occurred over the last decade, unfolding the political economy behind it and the subsequent production of locally contested sites, taking Chongqing as case study. By considering the real and the digital as complementary spaces for interaction and knowledge production, the paper highlights the epistemological importance of seeing heritage outside its materiality as a discursive practice of institutionalized rhetoric and identity production. 

It focuses on the idea of heritage as a resource which may re-unite the different social components within a common and shared emotional space against the backdrop of alien cultural forms. At the same time, it sheds light on the embeddedness of political narratives in the remaking of cultural heritage as a controversial field for the strengthening of social interests.