The entrance to the town of Dongkeng, April 2016. Image: Wen Cuiyan

Students performing muyuge in an intangible cultural heritage exhibition in Dongguan in July 2015. Image: Wen Cuiyan

At the juncture of reform, heritage making of an industrial town in Pearl River Delta region

Wen Cuiyan

In October 2017 at the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping declared the arrival of ‘the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics’, which is believed to herald a period distinct from Deng Xiaoping’s era of Reform and Opening-up since the late 1970s. Concepts of ‘cultural confidence’ and ‘the China dream’, ‘the great rejuvenation’ marking the new historic period have actually been conceived as early as the mid-1990s and fully unfolded since the early 2000s. Therefore, the turn of the century marks the transition between the reform era and the ‘new era’. During this juncture, the emergence of heritage making became a signature phenomenon. It plays a prominent role in reshaping the cultural identity of common Chinese people, their perception of everyday tradition and the cultural orientation of economic life. This essay examines the heritage making of the town of Dongkeng, an ordinary industrial town located in the Pearl River Delta area, a symbolic region of the Reform and Opening-up. As the labour-intensive economic model went into crisis in the early 2000s, culture – especially folk and traditional culture – was adopted by local governments to earn new scoring points of economic growth and urban regeneration. Based on policy analysis and fieldwork interviews, I examine how the town tactically made use of intangible heritage to re-organize local cultural resources. Heritage making became the response to the town’s desire of economic restructuring in the process. It also refashions the cultural narratives of economic restructuring. The essay concludes that the heritage process is one of re-organizing and interweaving everyday traditions and practices into local economic schemes, and this consolidated orientation of cultural identity characterizes China’s transition towards a ‘new era’ of socio-economic development.

Wen Cuiyan (2020): At the juncture of reform, heritage making of an industrial town in Pearl River Delta region, Cultural Studies,

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