Archive for the ‘General’ Category

…I just twittered a SAFECORNER post that has to do with FAKES on the Antiquities Market, and it has gotten me thinking: IF people were some how able to create accurate and authentic reproductions of ancient relics that are free of temporal or stylistic inconsistencies (already kind of a pipe dream), would it be entirely wrong to use these reproductions as teaching tools? Could they be put on display at at museums as long as they were clearly labelled as reproductions in order not to mislead the public?

I think it could be an interesting way to make sure authentic artifacts are not put in harms way. In addition, the idea that they could be used to deter real looting is more than a little intriguing.

Then again, IF they could be used as a mechanism to stop actual looting, how would we go about establishing it? I would like to learn more about the role of forgeries on the antiquities market and whether or not they are truly as insidious as some people claim they are, and if there is really some kind of untapped cultural heritage protection tool that we can begin to exploit…

What are your thoughts?

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So there has been information floating around recently that the Chinese are taking their recent preoccupation with reacquiring previously looted antiquities (called the  Lost Cultural Relics Recovery Program) to a whole new playing field, and have gained access to the British Museum, as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum in order to inspect their collections for items that can be proved to have been illegally removed.

This is seriously interesting, folks. From all angles. I’m currently on the hunt for more information about this subject, but as a teaser, here’s an article about it from the Telegraph. Be sure the peruse the comments as well, fascinating the opinions an endeavor like this generates…

Will keep you posted.

Also, as a heads up, book reviews are soon to be added! Yay!

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Check out THIS 2005 documentary film about the Bamyan Buddhas.

It’s been out for a while, but I figured I’d draw your attention to it, since Columbia University’s Center for Archaeology recently hosted a discussion panel about it. It’s a good introduction to some of the problems facing archaeological sites in Central Asia.

It’s also available for purchase on DVD. I know what’s on my Christmas list!

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Most of you should be aware, by now, of the protests against ethnic discrimination and religious intolerance that are currently going on in Urumqi, the capital city of the Chinese province of Xinjiang.

My question is: what, if any, reprocussions does this have on the cultural heritage of the area? specifically, the ongoing demolition of the Old City of Kashgar (seen on the map below)?

Image taken from the Washingtonpost.com

Image taken from the Washingtonpost.com

First, a little background: For the past three days, violence has beeen erupting between the Han Chinese and the Uighurs, who area Turkic ethnic group and practice Islam, but who have inhabited the Xinjiang area for millenia.

The clashes have been over, primarily, the increasing marginalization felt by the Uighurs at the hand of the Han Chinese. They (the Uighurs) feel that they have been suppressed and overruled in what they consider to be their own territory by the Han Chinese who are ethnically different, do not practice their religion, do no speak Uighur language, and deny them access to fair competition in education and business.

Until recent years, the province of Xinjiang was only lightly inhabited by Han Chinese because of its arid climate and desert terrain (the feared Taklamakan Desert of Central Asian fame makes up the heart of this province) and its distance from major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai. For the most part, this area was left to the Uighur population to inhabit as they have been for centuries (hence: Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region). However, in the last couple of decades, more and more Han Chinese have settled in the region, mostly on govt. incentives (sort of the way Tibet has been settled by Han Chinese who were bussed in from Sichuan). It seems as though here is another veiled attempt at suppression through ethnic majority, something that has become somewhat of China’s M.O. for dealing with ethnic minorities in their border regions (Tibet being a case-in-point).

But what reprocussions might this ethnic clash have on the area besides a political and media nightmare? Well, if you recall the contents of several previous posts on this blog, as well as THIS news article, you’ll remember that the ancient city of Kashgar is located in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Now, the demolition of the majority of Kashgar’s Old City, the historic district in the very centre of the modern city of Kashgar where most of the historic and archaeological remains of Islamic and Uighur culture are situated, has been going on for months (and has been years in the making), and until the recent violence, it has all but been forgotten by western media. I do not believe, however, that the two incidents are unrelated.

It may very well be that part of what fuels the anger felt by the Uighurs towards the Han Chinese includes the demolition of Kashgar’s Old City. To them, the destruction of Old Kashgar might have been the last straw in a slow and drawn-out silent extermination of their culture. A straw that may have served to incite anger in those who feel wronged by the Han Chinese and the Chinese government.

Unfortunately, it may very well be too late for what remains of Kashgar’s Old Town (as supposedly, 85% of the historic district has already been destroyed), but does the recent uproar from the Uighur community against complete ethnic integration and assimilation mean that more historic districts are soon to be torn down? Will the protests only serve to expedite the controlled destruction of cultural heritage in the Xinjiang area? The current progression of events in Xinjiang, especially Wang Lequan’s hardline policies towards the suppression of potential Uighur seperatists, do not make me hopeful that something like the protection of archaeological heritage will rank high on anyone’s list.

It is unfortunate that in many cases, especially in countries where totalitarianism reigns supreme, that archaeological and cultural patrimony fall victim to political whims. The legacy of Central Asia, an area of the world where whispered political struggles have been played out silently for centuries, has been savagely compromised at the hands of changing political regimes. It is unfortunate that such a rich historical and archaeological cache is slowly being destroyed without much of a chance for salvage.

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Today, June 9th, 2009, an Intangible Cultural Heritage Exposition opened in the City of Chengdu in Sichuan Province in the southwestern portion of China showing cultural displays from around the country.

Sichuan province shown in red

Sichuan province shown in red

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, Intangible Cultural Heritage is defined by UNESCO as:

“…the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. For the purposes of this Convention, consideration will be given solely to such intangible cultural heritage as is compatible with existing international human rights instruments, as well as with the requirements of mutual respect among communities, groups and individuals, and of sustainable development.”

Essentially, this means that intangible cultural heritage includes all those parts of a group of people’s cultural heritage and history that are not manifested in material form, but can take the form of knowledge and skills. Some of the most obvious examples of this are language, foodways, music, dance, craft-making, weaving, building, etc…, all those things that must be learned by doing.

An announcment made by Chinese media reports that of special importance in this year’s expo is Shu Embroidery, which was almost a no-show due to the scarcity of people who still know how to do it. This type of embroidery has been in existence since the Western Han Dynasty, and is unique in its style of stitch and needlework and the mixing of colored threads on satin backgounds from other types of embroidery found in other parts of the country (such as Su embroidery from Suzhou, Xiang embroidery from Hunan, and Yue embroidery from Zhejiang).For the most part, Shu embroidery depicts scenes from the Chinese landscape, and is heavy on images of nature.

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In case anyones needed reminding, today is the 30th anniversary of the massive police crackdown on the student-led protest against the Communist Party that took place in Tiananmen Square.

If anything, this NY Times article points out some of the resistance against outside influence that the Chinese govt. demonstrates today. Imagine how hard it might be for advocational groups, like archaeologists, to make themselves heard amidst all that posturing.

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“When people talk of cultural relics, they usually relate them to something ancient…but since China has undergone rapid changes in the past three decades, any place or institution that helped that transformation can be a cultural relic And the farm where Yuan grew his hybrid rice is one of the best examples of such a place.” These were the words of Shan Jixiang, director of China State Administration about Cultural Heritage (SACH), from a recent article about the making of “farmer” Yuan Longping‘s hybrid rice paddy in Hunan province, as well as the Anjiang School of Agriculture in the same province into cultural relic sites.

Any thoughts on this issue?

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This blog is an attempt to fill somewhat of a lacuna in online publications about cultural heritage protection in China.

What IS cultural heritage protection in China? Basically, it’s what archaeologists, historians, art historians, optimistic lawyers, optimistic students, hippies, authority-haters, and concerned citizens in general do to try and keep the archaeological record of China, that would be all 5000 years of history in material form, protected from destruction.

Why is there a lacuna in online publications about this issue? Basically because it’s too massive of an issue for any one New York Times or Washington Post article to cover in one go. That’s why I’m here. I want people to know about how endangered China’s archaeological record, the sum total of the physical remains of China’s 5000 year history , is in the modern world. I want the public to be as concerned about it as I am. I also want people to know about how much knowledge and information is contained in China’s archaeological record, knowledge that, contrary to what most people might think, is not wholly inaccessible to the average Joe

But why should you believe me? Who am I? What do I know about this issue, or about archaeology? Well, you should listen to me because I’m an archaeologist, by training, and hopefully soon, by profession. My college degree is in Archaeology, and my graduate degree is in Early China Studies, specifically, in the archaeology of ancient China. In addition, I have done an extensive amount of research on the topic of archaeological site looting in China, as well as the market for Chinese antiquities in the United States and Europe.

What I hope to create here is a place where information about the destruction, protection, and maintenance of China’s archaeological patrimony and cultural heritage can be gathered, viewed, distilled, and discussed. I’ll most likely be publishing a lot of my own thoughts and rants about this issue, but I encourage any and all feedback. In addition, I hope to share with everyone some of my research interests in the field of Early China Studies, and generally to provide information on a subject that, as global attention becomes increasingly focused on Chinese-American relations, can be interesting, if not useful, to the public at large.

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