Accepted Paper:

Community, heritage, and new museological approaches in China: a case study of the ecomuseum  


William Nitzky (Arizona State University)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper examines the ecomuseum as a new ethnological museum approach in China. Based on ethnographic research, it uncovers the implications ecomuseums have for local communities in the participation in tangible and intangible cultural heritage protection and management.

Paper long abstract:

China has recently experienced a museum development boom bringing new museological forms that extend classic ethnology museum practices to include the protection and exhibition of both tangible and intangible cultural properties. Although many studies address the growing social phenomenon of community-based locale-specific ethnological museums and local heritage preservation practices, little attention is paid to such museological forms in non-Western contexts. This paper explores China's implementation and localization of the ecomuseum, a Western approach to community museum development calling for the participation, interpretation and management of local cultural heritage. As "living museums" without walls, ecomuseums in China have come to represent an important tool to actively integrate intangible cultural heritage into the museum space as an effort to retain distinct cultural traditions and stimulate regional economic development via tourism. Based on field research in three ecomuseum villages in Guizhou and Guangxi, in southwest China, this study examines the different ways local ethnic minority communities engage and respond to the process of ecomuseum development and cultural heritage preservation, each with different outcomes. This paper examines how the ecomuseum creates a "contact zone" for the trafficking and interaction of political and economic agendas and competing claims and interpretations of local heritage, identity and place in the local context. I show how this new ethnological museum approach provokes local communities to negotiate and participate in their own cultural heritage protection and management and to take on new social roles within the broader context of China's economic, social, and political transformation.

Panel P094
Re-imagining ethnological museums: new approaches to developing the museum as a place of multi-lateral contacts and knowledge (Commission on Museums and Cultural Heritage)