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Museums as contested terrains: Memory work and politics of representation in Greater China 
Suvi Rautio (University of Helsinki)
Lisheng Zhang (UCL)
Harriet Evans (University of Westminster)
SOAS Senate House - S118
Sunday 3 June, -, -, -
Time zone: Europe/London

Short Abstract:

Our panel explores the role of museums in the Greater China Region. Taking an ethnographic approach to studying museums across both state official and private domains, we seek to examine the social and political dynamics that come into play in representations of the past.

Long Abstract:

Whilst placing nationalism at the core of political ideology is not unique to the Chinese Communist Party, the weight of cultural importance through a shared national identity has become increasingly dominant in China's 'heritage boom' over the past decade.

Implemented as pedagogical spaces across the country, museums play a key role in the 'cultural development' strategy of the Chinese government, a project of 'governance and social ordering' to assert the political legitimacy of the party-state (Denton 2014; Varutti 2014). In studying these spaces and the actors that inhabit or come to exert them, museums become contested terrains where ideas, values and powers are competed for.

In the meantime, private initiatives to preserve and represent the past have been a notable phenomenon in China. As such, museums are also memory spaces that communicate the historical narratives of individuals through arts, private collections, genealogies, archives, and cultivated landscapes. The establishment and maintenance of such spaces, although framed 'locally', are shaped by overlapping and conflicting moral, political and commercial objectives that always go beyond their localities.

This panel seeks to critically examine the diverse museum practices in both official and private domains of the Greater China Region. We welcome papers that ethnographically explore the dynamic social and political trajectories that frame and sustain museums. In doing so, our panel brings forth discussions to challenge often taken for granted binary frameworks, such as 'global/local' and 'state/private' in representations of the past.

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Sunday 3 June, 2018, -