The Politics of Heritage in East Asia

Workshop with Christoph Brumann, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.

Program and abstracts:

9.10 Welcome

Whose World Heritage? Japanese industrial sites, Korean forced labour and the UNESCO World Heritage arena.
Christoph Brumann, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.

"The annual session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Bonn 2015 witnessed an unusual confrontation: South Korea opposed the World Heritage List inscription of a Japanese candidate property, a collection of Meiji-period industrial sites, given that the nomination was silent about the history of Korean forced labour at some of these factories, mines and ports. The ensuing diplomatic tussle ended with a compromise solution that, however, gave space to a variety of interpretations and led to further contestation. Based on ethnographic fieldwork at the session, the documentary record and mass media coverage, the paper will recount the complicated order of events and then address why the Japanese delegation agreed to a solution that goes against the nationalism of the Abe administration. Part of the answer lies in the degree to which World Heritage sites -- whatever the universalist aspirations -- remain thoroughly national and local matters."

Reflections on Indigenous Heritage in Taiwan
Marzia Varutti, University of Oslo.

"In this intervention I would like to reflect on the significance of the concept of ‘indigenous heritage’ in Taiwan. What does this mean in contemporary Taiwan? Who defines it, and for whom? I am particularly interested in exploring how this concept is invoked and substantiated by actors ‘on the ground’, such as indigenous artists, artisans, and culture bearers, and how their perspectives enter into dialogue – or fail to do so – with those of other, more authoritative actors, such as Taiwanese national museums."

10.45-11.00 Coffee break

From “Superstition” to “Heritage”: The Reclassification of Mother Goddess and Whale God Worship in Vietnam
Aike Rots, University of Oslo.

Vietnam is a nominally socialist one-party state, with a strict separation of state and religion, at least in theory. Religion is closely monitored, and subject to various legal limitations. At the same time, however, it is also used actively by state actors and members of the ruling oligarchy, as it can provide them with legitimacy – as well as, some believe, divine power and protection. One of the most noteworthy changes in state-religion relations since the 1990s concerns the position of temples and ritual practices that are not legally classified as religion, but that can be grouped together under the umbrella tín ngưỡng dân gian (“folk belief”). Until the Đổi Mới reforms of 1986, these practices were considered by the state as the backward remnants of a feudal pre-socialist past, and classified as “superstition” (mê tín); its practitioners were subject to periodic persecution. Since the 1990s, however, many of these traditions have experienced a revival; today, they can be performed in public, and they have come to be reclassified as important national “heritage” (di sản). A well-known example is the Mother Goddess tradition, Đạo Mẫu, which was even listed by UNESCO as “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”in 2016. In this presentation, I will discuss the heritagisation of Đạo Mẫu, and compare it to another ritual tradition, the worship of the Whale God (cá ông) in the coastal regions of south and central Vietnam.

Japan's biggest city festival, Kyoto's Gion matsuri as intangible heritage
Mark Teeuwen, University of Oslo.

After the war, it was by no means self-evident that Gion matsuri could be revived as the defining festival of Kyoto. In the seven decades that have passed since then, the festival has grown into a huge event that attracts millions of people. In the process, the festival has undergone frequent changes more dramatic even than the revolution of Meiji. The social transformation of downtown Kyoto is perhaps the most fundamental cause for many of these changes, but the festival has also had to adapt to a new legal environment, and its cultural status has been transformed from a “private rite” under pre-war legislation, into a state-protected and heavily subsidized “important intangible folkcultural property” (1979) and UNESCO “intangible cultural heritage” (2009). I started out my research with the hypothesis that these designations had exerted significant influence on the dynamics of the festival.  After some months in Kyoto and many interviews with different actors in the festival, I have begun to wonder whether the real question is not how heritage policies changed festivals like this, but rather how the postwar history of festivals has shaped heritage policy.

Published May 9, 2018 10:22 AM - Last modified May 9, 2018 10:22 AM