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Heritage Modernity: Heritagization of the Grand Canal and Everyday Life in Hangzhou, China


This dissertation examines how heritagization indicates modernity, which provides a city with a new social and cultural experience and aspiration from exploring the past. This modernity—heritage modernity, suggests an improved society and promised future while this modernity does not claim a total break with the past.

The Grand Canal in Hangzhou, China, is chosen for this empirical study. As the city is recognized as a tourism city with three UNESCO World Heritage sites in this decade, the dissertation explains how these social, economic, and cultural processes configure the urban spatial setting and its cultural preservation. The urban cultures and the city have been under redefinition as heritage machine has reformed local communities, their local identities, and memories associated with the city.

Heritagization of the Grand Canal involves three processes: the canal's disuse, the starting of preserving the canal, and the growing awareness of the canal heritage. This study indicates a series of social-spatial process regarding heritagization, and heritage modernity is the product of the growth machine and developmentalism social-engineering projects. Heritage modernity utilizes the past to prepare and support the urban agenda. However, the pursuit of it excludes unwelcome pasts and undesirable social groups in the path to a bright future. Thus, heritage preservation is better understood as heritagization as the latter indicates how heritage has been used for current urban development projects.

Chapter One reviews existing scholarships on approaches of critical heritage studies, and it addresses four themes discussed as current issues of heritage preservation: local development, museum and the modernity-making, social-engineering, and performance. The following chapters use the case study to elaborate on each theme further. Chapter Two introduces how the Chinese Grand Canal becomes a national heritage site and how local states triggers the “heritage machine” to evaluate potential heritage sites with the belief in developmentalism. This chapter also discusses how the use of heritage, finance, and the levels of recognition determine its practical, social, aesthetical, and cultural value in the era of heritagization. Chapter Three examines the making of the World Heritage Qiaoxi Cultural District in the context of urban renewal and heritagization. By museumification, aestheticization, and invention, the mechanism of sanitation excludes filthy parts of the local histories and environment, and transformed this area as a heritage-themed cultural district. Chapter Four discusses the “returning residents” in the resettlement community. This area in its post-industrial development is a residential and commercial area, with the general increase in rent in Hangzhou, this area attracts middle-class people to move in and results in gentrification. However, besides the coming of these new Hangzhou residents, the original residents faced social reshuffling, and social expectation, material compensation, and generational differences have complicated social relations. This social process implies that despite the heritagization stresses on the idea of on-site living preservation of the Grand Canal and local communities, social and spatial transformation still takes place by the Grand Canal heritage. Chapter Five discusses how cultural heritage in Hangzhou is remade to represent the city’s image by examining its legacies in the development of tourism and two mega-events held in this city. The four dimensions regarding heritagization suggest how heritage as tools for social inclusion and exclusion works in contemporary society in which a new type of modernity becomes dominant in urban life and urban experience to citizens.

Heritagization shapes the temporal and spatial relations in the contemporary urban context and indicates and expects a new social and cultural order provided by heritage modernity. By the new arrangement of heritage representation and social-spatial engineering, this modernity, in turn, redefines the social subjects to be modern to follow up the pace of developmentalism, sanitation modernity, modern housing, and the making of a venue city with virtues such as civility and tolerance. This modernity shapes the image and characters of a city and heritage become renewable resources that can be invested and represented.

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