Heritage and the Politics of Culture
Drawing on the case study of Quanzhou, a coastal city in the Fujian Province of China, which was proposed for inscription onto the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018 for its contribution to the exchange system of the maritime Silk Road, and interchange of the Chinese people and foreigners in China on religious beliefs from the 10th century to the 14th century, I examine the process of heritage-making at a selection of religious sites proposed to be on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Many of these religious sites underwent significant restoration and transformation, spearheaded by the local provincial government, in preparation for the UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination. However, many of these religious sites came to be alienated by their local communities through the heritagisation process. In this paper, I examine the impact of the heritagisation process on the local communities and places, focusing on how and why these religious sites lose their spirit of place through the heritage-making process. I suggest that this arises from the dissonance between two meaning-making systems concerning religion and heritage: while the religious meaning-making system draws upon a logic system premised on dreams, beliefs and merit-making, the heritage meaning-making system emphasises empirical evidence, facts and scientific reasoning. I suggest for consideration to be extended to the ideas of religious meaning-making within the heritage-making process of religious sites to engender a more inclusive outcome for the local people.