Cultural Resilience in Asia: A Comparative Study of Heritage Conservation in Lijiang and Bagan
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The practices of historic preservation have long been highly influenced by the UNESCO's international guidelines that classify the significance of local living heritage into tangible and intangible categories. This approach has separated local physical and cultural systems and triggered a fast transformation (regime shift) in the local cultural material systems from a healthy state to a degraded or decoupled state. This research tries to compare the recent institutionalized historical preservation practices and existing local mechanisms in heritage conservation in Lijiang, China and Bagan, Burma. Through a framework of cultural resilience, it examines the cultural states of local physical and cultural systems. Specifically, the analysis focuses on: (1) the impact of institutional preservation policies on local cultural practices, (2) vulnerability in the relationships between heritage and communities due to physical transformation and how communities adapt to such changes, (3) governmental interventions that trigger a tipping point of major changes between heritage and society, (4) how key concepts of preservation such as authenticity and integrity can be redefined through perspectives at the local level, and (5) how understanding in the adaptation of local cultural practices and resilience can contribute to new practices in historic preservation in Asia and reflections on the practices of UNESCO and other international organizations. From the perspective of cultural resilience, Lijiang as a UNESCO World Heritage Site that follows international guideline on historic preservation is in a degraded to decoupled cultural state. In comparison, the heritage sites in Bagan as a non-World Heritage Site despite government interventions are in a healthy to degraded cultural state with some continuity of local cultural practices. This research suggests that a paradigm shift from institutional preservation discourses to a cultural resilience approach is needed in heritage conservation in Asia. Specifically, the new approach needs to re-establish and protect the connections between built environment and local cultural practices, respect traditional local practices, account for local adaptation to changes, and enable democratic participation of local communities in preservation policies and practices.
- Built environment