Accepted paper:

China: mythical land of ancestors or the PRC as a nation-state? Meanings of heritage, home, and nationhood in Chinese-American heritage travel


Elisabeth Moolenaar (Regis University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes contested readings of heritage through the lens of a Chinese-American heritage travel program. In an ethnographic analysis it examines the role of heritage in the shaping and experiencing of identities and belonging in a transnational context.

Paper long abstract:

Every year since the "opening-up of China" a group of twelve young Chinese Americans from the San Francisco bay area travel through Southern China to "search for their roots." During the journey various, sometimes clashing, ideas emerge of China, home, Chineseness, and heritage. The PRC has tapped into deeply-embedded modes of belonging, notions of disrupted family connections, and Confucian ideology to bind Chinese Americans to China in the hopes of future investments by orchestrating highly ritualized returns as part of their Roots Seeking Summer Camp. By employing a type of racialized heritage based on blood and an unbreakable connection to both the ancestral village and the territory of the PRC as a nation-state, government officials try to instill a sense of nationhood among heritage travelers. To the travelers, however, heritage is comprised of knowledge, customs and practices—reworked during their journey to span across the borders of the nation-state, partially based on memories of the ancestral village and located in the imagination. This paper examines these, at times contested, readings of heritage, and unveils contradictions present in heritage travel programs. It describes the process of presentation and interpretation to create and impose Chinese heritage by various actors. Furthermore, the research investigates the relevance of China as a homeland for second and later generations Chinese American youth, and the extent of membership in the Chinese nation. Using ethnographic data, it discusses the role of heritage in the shaping and experiencing of identities and belonging in a transnational context.

panel P09
Re-membering transnational living heritages