Heritage and the Politics of Culture
In 2013, the Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled plans for an ambitious development strategy, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), aimed at enhancing the trade cooperation and infrastructural connectivity between China and the Eurasian countries, based on reinvigorating two ancient trading routes: the overland Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) connecting China to Europe, and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) connecting China to the Middle East through South and Southeast Asia. This paper explores the political, economic, social, and cultural dynamics surrounding the process of heritage instrumentalisation, based on a comparative ethnographic study of two Asian port cities along the historic maritime Silk Road, namely Quanzhou in China and Melaka in Malaysia. Drawing on the politics of heritage instrumentalisation as a conceptual framework, this research examines how different stakeholders at these port cities strategically mobilise their maritime history and heritage, especially the narrative of the historic maritime Silk Road, to further their respective agendas, and the results of this instrumentalisation. The complicated interplays of power relations among the different stakeholders within and across the local, national and global scales, which may align with or contest the dominant discourse of the historic maritime Silk Road portrayed by the Chinese government under the BRI, produces complex ramifications for the people and places at these different port cities along the maritime Silk Road. My research seeks to uncover these complex political, economic, social, and cultural dynamics, and propose strategies to mitigate the negative implications of these initiatives on the people and places.