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Reflection by Yongliang Gao
Today’s session is a must-have one for environmental history students, whatever field you are studying in. Personally, I am writing a thesis about cultural heritage management and tourism development on the Silk Road in China. Although I haven’t chosen a specific region/site to conduct the research, the term ‘local community’ and ‘national state’ always haunt me while proceeding my project.
The literatures I’ve read so far on cultural heritage management are highly centered on national or international scale, very few scholars managed to concentrate their research on a local scale, though some have outlined the dilemma between the two. I do acknowledge the national administration of a cultural heritage site considering the financial and bureaucratic vantages that a nation possesses. But neglecting the local community would not harmonize the managerial work for the site, but trigger conflicts between the local and nation state as the local people are the owners of the landscape and have indigenous knowledge about the landscape. To exclude the local would very likely cause social chaos and with a lack of local knowledge remained.
To study cultural heritage management in China is tricky as the land is all controlled and regulated by the state, even if one owns a land, the property right is limited to 70 years. In fact, the state can do whatever necessary to a land, even though someone legally owns it. That is to say, the cultural heritage study in China should be first viewed from the national perspective. As for the local, to what extent can they participate in the management depends on the attributes of the local site (population, social status, position, etc.). This is a pretty daunting truth for people doing this kind of research in China because we have to raise the national interest above the others.
Except the issues above, I think Libby Robin also accentuated her talk on how culture influences people’s perceptions toward the environment, like how British shaped the way Australian understand their environment. For the literatures that I have read, I found a very common argument almost in every landscape management research, that is “culture has/play a/some sort of role in shaping a landscape”. An argument like this sounds like a crab to me. Whenever I see it, I get sick of it because literally no landscape can be built without culture involved. To avoid arguing culture like this, I am building up a model that could quantify the cultural impact on landscape shaping and management. My purpose for constructing the model is to identify and compare the cultural impacts on the landscape by demographic characteristics (like age, gender, education, income, marriage, number of children, etc.) in order to grasp how different groups view culture on the landscape they dwell. By comparing statistics generated from the model, I will hopefully get to know how should I represent different opinions for different groups. This is really hard to explain so far as everything about the model is ongoing and nothing is settled, but I believe it might work.
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