Re-creating Memories of Gulou: Three Temporalities and Emotions

In 2012, a project proposed by local authorities aimed to revitalize, after a century of interruption, the use of Beijing’s Bell and Drum Towers and the social traditions associated with it. As a result, more than one hundred households living in 66 traditional courtyards were to be relocated. Based on ethnographical fieldwork, our research reveals three main groups of stakeholders. Their claims reflected three distinct temporalities. The local government defined that the heyday of the area was about 400 years ago based on a map drawn in the imperial period; the active preservationists were concentrated on the present, but also on the past which has value to be preserved; and the locals were largely concerned about their future. For a better understanding of these distinct and their entangled histories, the paper draws particular attention to the links between collective memory (Halbwachs 1950) and social and spatial location, taking into consideration the city as a palimpsest (Corboz 1983). In Gulou, we observe that the discourses and practices of these three groups also reflect three degrees of emotional experiences related to the neighborhood. Local authorities had weak emotional ties to the city and showed little interest in establishing such ties; the preservationists seemed to have gained a strong connection with the physical heritage; the locals had the closest emotional attachments to the neighborhood. The experiences of place each group referred to varied radically, depending on who the stakeholders were and from which position they were speaking. A historic map was the key element for the local government, the condition of building for the preservationists, and the memories and life inscribed in the neighborhood for the inhabitants. In this sense, the neighborhood has been re-imagined and re-created not only physically by the local authorities, but also mentally by the negotiations between different stakeholders. This paper scrutinizes the narratives by the three groups to make sense of their positions. The closer the group was to the area, the more contradictory and diverse their voices were. In general, all groups used memory and nostalgia as tools to legitimate their claims. We conclude by arguing that HUL needs to be implemented and practiced by unveiling particular power relationships within local contexts. Understanding this power relationships requires in turn eliciting memories and emotions of the locals and other concerned stakeholders.


Presented at:
Association of Critical Heritage Studies 4th Biennal conference, Heritage Across Boarders, Hangzhou, China, September 1-6, 2018
Year:
Sep 05 2018
Keywords:
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 Record created 2018-09-10, last modified 2019-05-07


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