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When Heritage Is Rural: Environmental Conservation, Cultural Interpretation and Rural Renaissance in Chinese Listed Villages


Anna-Paola Pola

World Heritage Institute of Training and Research for the Asia and the Pacific Region under the auspice of UNESCO
(WHITRAP), Shanghai, China


ABSTRACT  This article argues that China’s growing attention towards villages in recent years has contributed to transforming the concept of built heritage and helped in disseminating a holistic idea of territory that has prepared the ground for the environmental turn the country is now experiencing. This conceptual transformation was carried on by a number of converging—although independent—initiatives from different governmental institutions and has been driven by different factors, most importantly, the need to mend the development gap between urban and rural areas, and the wish to rediscover the cultural heritage of the country. The Chinese experience in village preservation was conceived as an important component of a much wider corpus of measures, driven by the rural revitalisation discourse, and should therefore be situated within this broader conceptual framework. This perspective leads to a distinctive approach to the concept of heritage and outlines a type of protection ‘with Chinese characteristics’that will increasingly influence the international context. Drawn on three years of field observations and desk analysis, the article highlights some of the characters that define the Chinese experience in village preservation, analysing the most important national lists of villages and examining various cases.

KEYWORDS  rural development, rural heritage, beautiful villages, historic cultural villages, traditional villages, ecovillages, rural tourism, rural revitalisation

Received April 15, 2019; accepted May 14, 2019.

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