Where there is Repression, there is Resistance: Asking Critical Questions in China’s Stone Forest World Heritage Site

In August 2011, I saw my long-time research site of Wukeshu for the last time. Bulldozers, anxiety and caution surrounded us amid homes marked with “cha¯i 拆” to demolish, a sign repeatedly painted out by families still in residence. My closest Sani friend guided us along rubble-strewn paths to visit family living behind barred gates. It looked like a war zone. Wukeshu was being destroyed in the name of tourism development. New facilities for tourists were planned for this prime piece of real estate by the entrance to the Stone Forest National Park. Never mind that is was home to hundreds of indigenous Sani families for centuries.
Many Wukeshu people have not moved on quietly, and that is the focus of this paper, exploring how in current repressive conditions, a young Chinese academic can pursue telling the story of Wukeshu through critical research, transnational networking, and soft power. This doctoral student, Shi Yanlan, and I co-authored a paper on Tangible Removal and Intangible Renewal for a UNESCO-focused conference in Taipei, April 2013. At the last moment, all PRC scholars were told they had been denied visas by Taiwan. Mike Robinson, one of the organizers, however had received an email message from Beijing officials that “your conference is banned.” Consequently I was unable to talk with Shi face-to-face, unguarded. Our report reflected her input, but regretfully I cannot provide much here about her experience. Another direction to be explored is this paper’s reception from UNESCO representatives at the meeting.

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Keywords: heritage, indigenous, local communities, tourism development
Categories: Tourism and its potential as a social force