De-foreignizing the Past: The Politics of Heritage in Xi'an, Central China

Xi'an, the former Chang'an – 3100 years old and capital to 13 dynasties of Chinese emperors – experienced World Heritage fame in 1987 when the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor with the stunning terracotta army was listed. The city centre too is full of famous heritage buildings. For instance, the Wild Goose Pagoda, the Tang dynasty palaces, the ancient city wall, and the Forest of Steles are World Heritage candidates. The glorious history characterises the city and dominates the mindset of its inhabitants. However, here as well, due to rapid modernisation, the cityscape is as much shaped by high rises as by historical buildings today.

Based on literature review, archival studies, participant observation, and interviews, this project intends to explore the interaction between modern development and historical preservation in the city. Both modernisation and the advance of heritage and heritage tourism have a strong impact on the social life of the local residents. The project therefore seeks to understand how historical and archaeological sites are displayed and in what ways this has changed in recent years along with the general social and economic change in Xi'an. How do different social actors understand heritage, perceive their own history and remember their past, and how do they react, negotiate, or compromise in situations when modernity, history and heritage cannot be reconciled so easily?

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