Cross-Cultural Misconceptions: Application of World Heritage Concepts in Scenic and Historic Interest Areas in China

Feng Han Introduction Scenic and Historic Interest Areas form a designated national park system in China. These areas, predominantly nature-dominated, as the most attractive and popular tourism destinations, are characterised by outstanding natural qualities as well as cultural qualities. They are also significant components of the world park system due to their great contribution to the World Heritage. By the end of 2003, 15 of the China’s 29 World Heritage Sites are also Scenic and Historic Interest Areas or are located in these areas. Recently, the management of Scenic and Historic Interest Areas, especially in the World Heritage Sites, appears to be following the tendency towards globalisation values. This has raised hot debates (Huang and Wu; ChinaYouth 2002; Wang(a) 2003; Wang(b) 2003). Main debates focus on the State policies that are basically derived from the criteria of Natural Heritage in World Heritage Convention: the removal of local inhabitants and the demolition and strict restriction of man-made structures within the properties (Guo 2003; Mingxing 2003; CNWH 2004). These policies are strongly opposed by local communities and even local governments, because such policies are not consistent with the traditional Chinese attitude to Nature. The Traditional Chinese View of Nature The traditional Chinese View of Nature has its philosophical origins in Confucianism and Taoism and has continued to develop historically. The Chinese have maintained a philosophical, humanist, and holistic attitude to the human-nature relationship which is distinguished from the western human traditional detachment from Nature (Moore 1967; Wang 1990; Li 1996; Zhou 1999). From the view of the Chinese, Nature has never excluded human activities, instead, it is a place that always embraces humans. Scenic and Historic Interest Areas, are the places where the natural beauty and cultural elements are at “perfect oneness” and present the

Chinese perceptions of Nature, namely, beautiful, peaceful, full of human spirituality, and embracing human beings (Figure 1 and Figure 2). It is necessary to point out that, historically, wild Nature is not within the scope of the Chinese appreciation. What they value is the part of Nature that has been aesthetically sensed or has created cultural attachments. The Chinese believe artistic re-built Nature is more beautiful than the original one, based on their tradition of great aesthetic achievements. The Chinese have developed unique culture of landscape poems, landscape gardens, and landscape paintings, where Nature as an assemblage of isolated objects without connecting into a unified scene is more than 1,000 years earlier than Western Countries. Thus, landscape has its specific meaning over time in China. It is the renaming of Nature, which is characterized by Shanshui (mountain and water), and especially, it refers to those ‘great’ or ‘scenic’ mountains and waters embedding great moral and aesthetic values. Landscape is traditionally moral- and aesthetic-centred in China. The interest of loving Nature and travelling in Nature became the basic virtue of the good men since the Jin Dynasty1 (265~420A.D). Distinguished from the West, the traditional Chinese View of Nature is marked by the following characteristics (Lin 1935; Lin 1937; Zhang 1992; Wang 1998; Yang, Zhang et al. 2001; Yu 2001; Shen 2002; Han 2003) : 1. It is humanistic rather than religious; 2. It is aesthetic rather than scientific; 3. There is great value and beauty embedded in Nature itself; 4. It is consistent with human moral and personality; 5. Nature is the extension of home; it is an enjoyable and inspiring place. 6. Artistic re-built Nature is more beautiful than the original one. 7. Nature aesthetics and practice are highly developed in China; 8. Travelling in Nature aims to be enjoyable, instead of solitude oriented.


It is widely accepted that landscape as an isolated objects without connecting into a unified scene emerged from Jin Dynasty in China.

World Heritage Categories: Cross-cultural Misconceptions The Detachment of Nature and Culture From the above statements, it is not difficult to understand that the categories of world heritage: Natural Heritage, Cultural Heritage, Mixed Heritage and Cultural Landscape, are confusing concepts for the Chinese to apply in Scenic and Historic Interest Areas where Nature and culture are highly integrated. Typically, many of these sites are Associative Cultural Landscapes with different virtues of artistic or cultural, moral or ethical associations without material evidence and easy to be ignored by the outsider. Chinese consider it is artificial to set them into different categories. Managers are usually mis-leaded by the policies of the Convention with cross-cultural misunderstandings. Now they are guiding to separate Nature for humans on these sites. There is not one site considered purely natural according to our practice experiences in the last twenty years. On the contrary, the cultural inventory in these naturalappearing areas always amazed us with rich cultural virtues when we go through its history. We are always surrounded by material culture or associative culture. A common naturally-looking stone in deep mountain may remind us where Li Bai (one of the greatest poets, Tong Dynasty 701—762AD) was drunk and lay and composed his famous landscape poem. A flat platform with a beautiful view could be the place where Bai Juyi (another great poet, Tong Dynasty 772-846AD) constructed his straw study house and lived spiritually with Nature. When we are travelling in Nature, we are with history and our ancestors without loneliness and solitude. The Chinese have put too much emotion and energy into Nature through thousands of years and it is such a tightly twined net that is impossible to separate Nature from culture (Lin 1937; Feng 1990). Cultural Landscape: A Problematic Concept The term “Cultural Landscape” is also problematic for the Chinese. As mentioned, landscape has its specific meanings in China. The Chinese would take it for granted that landscape is cultural as they are humanly conceived images of Nature. So it is unnecessary to put ‘cultural’ in front of ‘landscape’-even as “a useful tautology” (O'Hare 1997,p47). The core of the concept of cultural landscape that is aimed at broadening the view of the landscape towards settlement and all interfaces between

humans and Nature and beyond the aesthetic, the past, and "wilderness" in the West, is not widely accepted by the Chinese because of the lack of theoretical understanding of contemporary cultural landscape. Aesthetic-centred landscape still dominates China. Human settlement such as ‘riceterraced mountains’ is beyond the Chinese cultural images of Scenic and Historic Interest Areas, although sometimes they are regarded as ‘pastoral landscape’ (figure 3). Further, today they are against another ecological movement in China called “return the terraces back to the forest”. What is happening in China is just like what happened in Australia in the 1970s when National Parks authorities sought to create "pristine" wilderness areas by eradicating the traces of humans (O'Hare 1997,p29). Battles between ‘natural’ and cultural ideologies continue.

Cultural Tradition Vs Science and Globalisation in China The Influence of Cultural Tradition The influence of cultural tradition on today’s Chinese is profound and culture is usually inherited unconsciously. For example, Chinese housewives are never afraid to slaughter fresh animals for cooking, children in kindergartens recite Tang Poems loudly without realizing they are one thousand years old, and we take it for granted to travel in natural areas and build our houses there just to enjoy the beautiful scenery like our ancestors. They are cultural traditions and hard to resist for the Chinese. In Scenic and Historic Interest Areas, three characteristics can be outlined based on Chinese traditions: first, the tourists seek beautiful scenery with little ecological awareness in natural areas; second, adding and creating cultural identities in natural areas to attract tourists; third, numerous miles of roads are constructed to provide access to remote areas and tourist facilities are built to satisfy tourists’ comfort and enjoyment (Figure 4 and Figure 5). This has caused huge impact in these areas (BRN 2002). Such impacts are frequently attributed to the great pressure of tourism market instead of cultural traditions. However, nature, for the Chinese, except the religionist, is an enjoyable place for entertainment. Historically, people gathered there, having parties, composing those well-known poems while drinking wine and appreciating beautiful

scenery since the Jin Dynasty (265~420A.D) (Kubin 1990; Wang 1990). It is not understandable for the Chinese to go there to experience solitude as a temporary visitor, as Westerners do. Nature is an open-air home. This perspective, while maintaining the philosophical spirit of the Chinese View of Nature---‘being in harmony and oneness with Nature’, has been vulgarised through history. Today we occupy Nature and take it for granted unconsciously. The great artistic achievement of natural aesthetics also has a profound influence. The Chinese love humanising Nature more than any other nations for they believe that rebuilt Nature is more beautiful than the original. In one of my investigation, among 100 visitors 92 percent responded that they always feel a site lacks spirit if they are pure or wild natural areas without any cultural evidence (Han 2004). This important cultural preference of the Chinese tourists has resulted in today’s many man-made structures and altered- landscapes in Scenic and Historic Interest Areas. Contemporary Environmental Science and Globalisation Since China re-opened to the world in 1978, contemporary environmental science and ideas rapidly spread into China. Sustainability is one of the most important concepts developed since the mid-1970s in the West. The world heritage movement focuses the sustainability of the valuable properties we inherit from history. However, the concept of sustainability has contemporary western environmental philosophical foundations. The re-thinking of the relationship of human beings with the natural environment over the last thirty years reflected a widespread perception in the 1960s that the late twentieth century faced a serious environmental crisis. The practice has been going forward accompanied by lively theoretical debate, from challenging traditional Western anthropocentrism to the concepts of wilderness, ecological restoration and cultural landscape. The set of categories of the World Heritage, from Natural Heritage, Cultural Heritage, to Mixed Heritage, and to the most recent Cultural Landscape Heritage, is consistent with current trends integrate Nature and culture, based on the cultural diversity around the world, instead of the detachment of Nature and culture. But in China, the practice of World Heritage Sites in Scenic and Historic Interest Areas appears to exhibit opposite trends, as a result of implementing the Convention. Nature is beginning to be detached from culture. The

influence of globalisation is obvious, especially the spread of the concept of wilderness and “pristine nature”. Conflicts However, the global influence is mainly limited within management authorities and governments, instead of the local communities and visitors. Some management policies, which are mis-applied from the Convention by management authorities due to cross-cultural misunderstanding, have resulted in two unfortunate consequences in Scenic and Historic Interest Areas in China. One is the removal of local inhabitants from these areas which results in the rapid disappearance of the diversity of living culture; the other, is the restriction of new man-made structures in these areas, which is strongly against the Chinese traditional cultural activities. Both of these policies are under the name of Natural Heritage preservation and they are leading to the danger of static culture in these sites. They are creating cultural crises while dealing with ecological crises. Battles between government and local communities, management authorities and visitor, essentially, are battles between international universal value and traditional cultural value. Case 1: Demolition in Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area The case of the Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area is a typical example. It is a hotly debated case and calls for deep thought. It is one of the most popular Scenic & Historic Interest Areas in China, with a large annual visitation of more than 5 million (XHN 2003). It was designated as World Natural Heritage by UNESCO in 1992. In 1998, it was severely criticized by the Centre/IUCN mission in the State of Conservation Report because it was “overrun with tourist facilities, having a considerable impact on the aesthetic qualities of the site” (UNESCO 1998) . The Mission was also sharply critical of increasing agricultural farming and urbanization caused by rapidly developing tourism (XHN 2003). It seemed Wulingyuan was in danger as a World Heritage Site. In order to meet UNESCO’s requirement of World Natural Heritage, the Central and Provincial Governments of China decided to demolish 340,000m2 of recently built facilities and artificial scenic spots to respond to the Committee’s critics in the five years beginning in 2001; and to remove or resettle 1791 people from 546 families from 2001 to 2003 in order to restore the natural ecosystem (XHN 2003).

This demolition and removal project is strongly resisted by local government and communities. Besides its huge financial budget (about 1 billion Yuan), it is also criticised as ‘erasing history’, albeit recent. There is also deep confusion in the local farmers and children’s eyes (Figure 6). They cannot understand why they should move out of the land where they have lived for generations and why their existence is an ‘ecological and visual impact on the nature’. They are also worried about how to survive in a new strange world out of this mountain with limited financial compensation from government (Figure 7). But all this is happening under the name of “World Heritage”. Case 2 Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area: An Artificial Natural "Earthly Fairyland" Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area is another World Natural Heritage Site designated in 1992, which is especially famous for its beautiful colours of water. Jiuzhaigou is doing its best to create an "earthly fairyland" or "fairy-tale world" with beautiful natural scenery, which seems never to have been touched by humans. It is a new Chinese interpretation of the Western “wildness” concept. Jiuzhaigou was once polluted due to the loss of vegetation and pollution accompanied by large visitation annually (more than 1 million). The eco-restoration involved complete removal of tourist accommodations in the valley and now hotel constructions are strictly restricted to areas outside of the property. The management effort to restore the ecosystem, and the model of partnership between authorities and the local people was commended by the Bureau of World Heritage Committee (UNESCO 1998). Now this model is strongly recommended by the Central Government of China and all other sites are requested to learn from its experience. The price of the removal of all tourism facilities and the prohibition of grazing of the local minorities is the disappearance of culture. Traditional local life formed in five thousand years ago has been totally changed. It was once a living cultural landscape with nine minority villages living in this valley (the meaning of name of Jiuzaigou Valley) on their own customs, grazing and farming generations by generations. Now they still live in this site but their existence has become a tourist gaze, the tourists’

image of minorities and herdsmen. They stopped their traditional life of living in Nature, in return for the high economic benefits from the local government. Tourism has eliminated the need for the natural resources ‘exploitation’ that they formerly lived on. Comments and Arguments Both cases are happening in World Natural Heritage Sites and relate to ecological restoration, which is usually undertaken when Nature is threatened or damaged and pollution and natural resource deterioration exist. If we treat these environmental impacts accompanied by tourism just as an ecological disaster, this interpretation is too shallow (Naess 1973). There are deep philosophical ethics underlying these surface phenomena. Essentially, the debates are not between preservers and developers; rather, they are between the different values of Nature. This raises issues which are “concerned with describing the values carried by the non-human natural world and prescribing an appropriate ethical response to ensure preservation or restoration of those values” (Light and Rolston 2003). This paper, however, argues that the issues are more complex and we need to think as we act, and we should therefore reflect about “why we do” before “what we do”. While the local people are losing their homeland, we are losing our living culture; we are creating ‘dead culture’ (museums) while we are killing living culture. It also relates to severe ethical issues. The poor local people are removed, possibly because they are regarded as low ‘uncivilized’ people. Their existence interferes with the aesthetic and ecological quality for some ‘civilized’ ‘nature seeking’ people. The Wulingyuan locals have been removed from the site or resettled to new sites which are “out of the view of tourists”(XHN 2003; Zhang 2003). It could be supposed that if the Jiuzhaigou people were not minorities protected by special policies, and did not have tourism values, they would be removed as well. Unfortunately, this ‘ethnocentric’ western wilderness concept (Callicott 2000) is rapidly pervading the management of World Heritage Sites in China. Now whenever we begin to talk about the site management, the first reaction of local authorities is ‘cleansing the local people out of the property’. In many ways, this is tragic.

The restriction of human construction in natural areas is also against the Chinese traditional cultural activities in Nature. Nature is culturally and socially constructed and there is no ‘right culture’ or ‘wrong culture’. Culture can be guided but cannot be restricted. It is evident that a huge lift which creates three world records (biggest, fastest, and highest) has just been built at the same time as the big demolition in Wulingyuan (Figure 8). It is equivalent to The Great Wall as a man-made structure in natural area if we disregard aesthetic and historic preference. It is perhaps ridiculous for the outsiders, but it is naturally accepted by the common Chinese people. The World Heritage, to some extension, is towards a commercial and political movement in China. It comes into a strange circle that almost all applications are companied by huge local government invested demolition to meet the Convention’s criteria. This results in that the heritages are commercially used as ‘golden tourism brand’ for short-term gain to make the investment back once the application is successful. While the governments actively apply for the World Heritage status, the local communities, such as those living in Zhouzhuang near Shanghai, do not want to be cleansed out and sacrifice their lives for the World Heritage. They claim that ‘World Heritage application is politics for the local leaders, but for us, we want life, we want to live better” and the local leader complained that “we are struggling with the local communities” (ChinaYouth 2002). Many policies applies in China are against the central spirit of the Convention. Heritage is a living concept, such as cultural landscape, where history and meanings can be read and interpreted as texts (O'Hare 1997; Armstrong 2001). While we pass on ‘yesterday’ to our generation, we have to think what of ‘today’ can be passed on. When culture and ethics encounter universal science and globalisation, there emerge most difficult issues. There are a range of values that we need to be “more sensitive about who counts and why” (Light and Rolston 2003). There is no conclusion in this paper; rather, it calls urgent attention to the cultural diversity and sustainability to keep the vitality of cultural landscape. Figures: Figure 1: Traditional image of living in Nature. Figure 2: Culture being in oneness with Nature

Figure 3: Rice terraces in deep high mountain. Figure 4: New-constructed road in Wulingyuan. Figure 5: New-constructed scenic spot in Wulingyuan. Figure 6: Deep confusion in children’s eyes. Figure 7: Living on the land Figure 8: New lift in Wulingyuan


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