cultural heritage

The heritagization of the emigration from China

img. Part of the exhibition at the Overseas Chinese Museum of China, Beijing, source: http://www.7782tour.com/museum/27.html.

blog authored by dr. Martina Bofulin, Slovenian Migration Institute, Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

After the implementation of the reforms in the 1980s the Chinese state started to embrace a more diverse understanding of heritage. After the adoption of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Convention in 2003, China experienced the so-called “heritage boom” that also included the new stance towards the legacies of emigration from China.  For a long time considered to be traitors and agents of imperialism, Chinese emigrants, or Overseas Chinese as they are most often called, turned from ideologically suspicious to patriotic with their material and immaterial legacies being celebrated through museums, rituals, and monuments.

Part of the exhibition at the Overseas Chinese Museum of China, Beijing, source: http://www.7782tour.com/museum/27.html.

According to some estimates, there were at least 30 such museums across China, including major metropolises (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) as well as smaller places with strong emigration in Fujian, Zhejiang, Guangdong and even Yunnan and Heilongjiang provinces (Wang 2019). Among these, the flagship project is the National Overseas Chinese History Museum of China in Beijing officially inaugurated in 2014.  As Wang Cangbai  (2019) observes, these museums may differ in style and size but are very much alike in their monolithic patriotic discourse. This discourse emphasizes the contribution of the Overseas Chinese to China’s revolution (especially their contribution to the struggle against Japanese aggression) as well as subsequent modernization. Museums thus construct the Overseas Chinese as a highly unified “patriotic subject” who had suffered as a victim of Western colonialism and imperialism (Wang 2019).

A statue of Johann Strauss at Longjin Park in Qingtian. Longjin Park is described as “a community park characteristic of natural beauty, European styled structure, traditional culture and modern garden arts”, source: Martina Bofulin.

While on the national level the heritagization of Chinese emigration is highly ideological and does not depart in any way from the prescribed forms of the Chinese state’s metanarrative of the great revival of Chinese civilization under the CCP Chinese Communist Party, the heritagization at the local level pursues many more complex aims and gives local authorities more creativity for turning local practices and legacies into heritage. At the local level, the heritagization is much less ideological as it is practical – the main aims are local development through tourism, urban development as well as social cohesion, and successful town branding. But as the case of Qingtian county, a small “hometown of Overseas Chinese” in the southern Zhejiang province reveals, the migration legacies are mostly intangible practices that must be somehow made more palpable and material. In Qingtian, many resources are invested in creating an environment that reflects the century-long connection to Europe through migration. These legacies materialize in the local “European style” projects, including newly built monuments and buildings, as well as the celebration of particular consumption practices (e.g. coffee houses, wine drinking).

Qingtian as a coffee town – the presence of the coffee culture due to the emigration “to 120 countries and districts”, source 旅游青田/ Qingtian Tourism, 2019.

PAGODE – Europeana China is co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility Programme of the European Union, under GA n. INEA/CEF/ICT/A2019/1931839

ancient chinese calligraphy

A series of very interesting teaching and learning materials about China, its culture and cultural heritage, is published by the renowned online magazine Ancient History Encyclopedia. An article by Mark Cartwright dives into the meaning and history of Chinese calligraphy which was considered more an artistic practice than a way to communicate in written.

“Calligraphy established itself as the most important ancient Chinese art form alongside painting, first coming to the fore during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). All educated men and some court women were expected to be proficient at it, an expectation which remained well into modern times. Far more than mere writing, good calligraphy exhibited an exquisite brush control and attention to composition, but the actual manner of writing was also important with rapid, spontaneous strokes being the ideal. The brushwork of calligraphy, its philosophy, and materials would influence Chinese painting styles, especially landscape painting, and many of the ancient scripts are still imitated today in modern Chinese writing. “

Exquisite calligraphy was highly appreciated and cherished, by preserving the support in different ways; and talented writers could even become real celebrities so that their works were collected and faithfully copied (and sometimes even forged!) since the early days, irrespectively of the meaning of the text. “There are many scraps (tie) which may be very old and highly valued but are, in fact, merely comments on the weather or a note for a gift of oranges.”

Read or listen to the entire article from Ancient History Encyclopedia website: https://www.ancient.eu/Chinese_Calligraphy/

image: Rubbing of Essay on Yue Yi by calligrapher Wang Xizhi. Weltmuseum Wien via Europeana CC-BY-NC-SA

PAGODE – Europeana China is co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility Programme of the European Union, under GA n. INEA/CEF/ICT/A2019/1931839

Public Domain and misuse: some thoughts

Being so deeply embedded in the Europeana ecosystem, PAGODE – Europeana China fully embraces the advocacy towards more open access content to be made available online in repositories like Europeana. The effort of cultural heritage institutions in showcasing their gems in digital format goes hand in hand with their mission of sharing this cultural heritage at large, for the benefit and enjoyment of the entire community.

Also, the general trend in Europe about digitization of cultural heritage and associated rights comes from a lenghty discussion that is continuing for years: does the digitization action add new rights to the digitized object? Despite there is not a general consensus on this, the direction is on maintaining the rights status of the physical object also in the digital instance, and specifically this means that if an artwork is in Public Domain because of copyright’s expiration, also the digital reproduction should be labelled as “Public Domain”.

Irrespectively of the associated rights, however, there is always a problem of possible misuse for this content that is available online and easily downloadable. And while in our minds there is this idea of the “evil” user who breaks copyright on purpose, and stoles the images to e.g. make unlawful money out of them, the problem on the control of what happens to the online content is much deeper.

the Journal’s cover

An example of this, that particularly catched the attention of PAGODE – Europeana China because it relates to a Chinese cultural heritage item, has recently come to the stage: a beautiful image of a Chinese embroidered cloth (a so-called rank-badge) depicting a leopard, in PD from the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, was recently used to illustrate the cover page of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Journal, titled “Emerging infectious diseases”.

The Journal and CDC were immediately flooded with expressions of outrage and concern of many from the Asian-American community and beyond, at the inappropriate use of a Chinese work of art on the cover and tweet-posting of a journal issue devoted to scholarly articles on COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.

The power of imaging should not be underestimated, as the choice of this image in such a context may suggest an emphasis on animals in China as carriers of the disease, resulting in an unvoluntary but certainly irresponsible example of using a PD digital item. The sensitivity about associating the COVID-19 crisis straightforward with China is clearly understandable, especially in America in this moment of xenophobia concerns and protests; but the explaination of CDC cuts short, by stating this is all a misunderstanding, and simply confirming that the image was chosen just for decorative purposes, being a striking piece of art – as indeed it is. At the moment, no reaction is known from the Metropolitan Museum of Arts as the content holder of the misused digital image.

The entire story is deepened in an interesting article by Hyperallergic magazine.

But the question about protection against digital content misuses is still very open. It is not always a matter of  whom makes money out of the content, but more of what happens to the content once it is freely available for “any” purpose.

While advocating the open access approach, we really must think that the content holder completely loses any control and responsibility on the reuse of this content, and on the possible consequences that may arise. This is one of the many reasons for which some archives still have doubts about embracing the open access tout-court, especially when they deal with potentially-sensitive content.

image: Rank Badge with Leopard, Wave and Sun Motifs, China, Qing dynasty (1644–1911), late 18th century, silk and metallic thread, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 30.75.1025

PAGODE – Europeana China is co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility Programme of the European Union, under GA n. INEA/CEF/ICT/A2019/1931839

guqin and its music

image: © Chinese Academy of Art sourced from the UNESCO website

China has a long and influential musical tradition based on the philosophy and culture of ancient China. The Confucians embraced a correct use and form of music matching to sociological and cosmological conceptions, thus to discover traditional Chinese music helps understanding Chinese culture. Unfortunately, there are still a number of barriers to online access for audio and audio-related materials, including the need of appealing content display to support user-friendly search and engagement, which is a difficult task also in physical museums. Efforts are ongoing to make this content more widely shared and accessible, such as the dedicated Europeana Sounds collections and the very specific materials disseminated in the UNESCO in Intangible Heritage platform.

Inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in the UNESCO repository we can discover about the Guqin, the Chinese zitter: this musical instrument “has existed for over 3,000 years and represents China’s foremost solo musical instrument tradition. Described in early literary sources and corroborated by archaeological finds, this ancient instrument is inseparable from Chinese intellectual history.” As a demonstration of a different approach to music, guqin playing was not intended for public performance but it was more a personal art, that – along with calligraphy, painting and chess – Chinese scholars and noblemen were expected to master. “According to tradition, twenty years of training were required to attain proficiency.” it is explained in the UNESCO website and “Nowadays, there are fewer than one thousand well-trained guqin players and perhaps no more than fifty surviving masters. The original repertory of several thousand compositions has drastically dwindled to a mere hundred works that are regularly performed today.

Discover more about the Guqin in UNESCO website >>

image: © Chinese Academy of Art sourced from the UNESCO website.

PAGODE – Europeana China is co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility Programme of the European Union, under GA n. INEA/CEF/ICT/A2019/1931839