Forging Identities in the Multicultural Society: Cultural Landscape Construction in Langde, China

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Tao, Yingwen 

The use of heritage as a state tool to construct national identity has been fervently explored (e.g. Daniels 1993 and Kohl 1998). However, the ways in which ethnic minority communities in multicultural societies, respond to the Authorised Heritage Discourse’ (AHD) (Smith 2006) as the product of nationalism is relatively under-researched (Caffyn and Lutz 1999, Waterton 2010). This dissertation focuses on the case study of the Miao ethnic minority’s cultural landscapes in China, which have been altered continuously by both the national and local powers that seek to construct collective identities. The dissertation asserts that ethnic minority heritage practices in multicultural societies need to be understood as being profoundly shaped by nationalist discourses and practices. My ethnographic research, of Langde, a Miao village founded in the 14th century, addresses historical and contemporary identity negotiations between the local and the national, the ethnic minority and the majority, but also the ways in which ethnic minority groups and the state strive to shape their collective identities through concrete heritage practices. Such construction has in turn reinforced the local Miao identity through everyday heritage practices. The AHD in China, which is a technology of nationalism, has been based on the assumption of the ‘superior’ cultural status of Han as the majority. Yet, conversely it is also entwined with how ethnic minority groups have actively shaped their own identities. By employing visual ethnography, this dissertation reveals a Communist vision of multiculturalism, which combines cultural hegemony and community empowerment. The dissertation concludes by proposing an expansion to the framework for understanding how the AHD of ethnic minority heritage is made and perceived. Looking at minority heritage’s entanglement with nationalism provides a window of understanding into how collective identities at national and local levels are negotiated and reconstructed.

Janik, Liliana
Cultural landscape, China, AHD
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge