Theorizing “Empire” and World Order in the Ethnography of China’s Geopolitical Edges [Part 1]
1: Performing the Empires: On the Use of Cultural Heritage in a Northwestern Chinese City
Saturday, March 26, 2022
10:30am – 12:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Annenberg School of Communication / UPenn, United States
The “empire” has long been situated within the ideological framework of “imperialism” and “feudalism” in mainland China since 1949. Yet, multiple re-interpretations of the imperial legacies in China have challenged a monolithic notion of empire in academic discussions and public imaginaries. How are different empires performed not just through the eyes of the Chinese state but from the perspectives of ethnic minorities? What are at stake? How to navigate the murky waters of cultural (self-)representations through performative tactics? This presentation sets to address these broad questions by comparing specific ways in which the cultural heritage of imperial China as represented by two different groups in the northwestern city of Xi’an in China. One group is the Tang West Market Museum owned and run by Han Chinese and the other is the local Hui community. While the former mostly focuses on the imperial legacy of the Sui-Tang dynasties (581-907 AD), the latter expands the imagination of the Silk Road from the Tang Dynasty to the multicultural Qing dynasty through community-based historical legacies. My ethnography shows that two groups both operate within the hegemonic discourse of the state-endorsed Silk Road initiative. Yet, I also argue that each in their own ways challenges the state-centric framework of defining what imperial legacies mean in a local context.