07 Mar 2017

Curating the Borderlands: State, Market and Heritage Making in China

Talk at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University.

Alessandro Rippa


Since the launch of the Open Up the West Program (xibu da kaifa) in 2000, the development of China's western provinces has been a priority for the central government. Today, amidst a worrying economic slowdown and New Silk Road fantasies, China's borderlands seem to assume new significance. This talk moves from two different case studies – Kashgar, in Xinjiang, and the Dulong Valley in Yunnan – to analyze three major processes currently shaping China's peripheries and the lives of local minorities (shaoshu minzu): renewed state presence in terms of both bureaucratic and social control; the increasingly prominent role of market forces; and state-led attempts at heritage making. While state and market both consolidate what Habermas (1981) has called the "colonization of everyday life", heritage making assures discursive control over minority culture by attempting to replace the importance of social relations that remain illegible (Scott 1998) to state authorities. In order to understand those processes, I employ the notion of "curation" to define the government's effort to create modern subjects through particular material interventions and the commodification of minority culture. While "curation" hints at the attempt to turn ideology into reality typical of many modernist projects, it does so by including local responses beyond the mere appropriation/resistance frameworks. Curation, in other words, needs some form of consent, and both Kashgar and the Dulong valley offer valuable examples of local engagement with China's developmentalist ideology.

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany
martin.saxer@lmu.de | +49 89 2180 9639

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