Tracing Values through An Interpretative Model — A Comparative Study on Urban Conservation of Pingyao and Datong in China
As “values” vary by culture, time, and people, misunderstanding amid international conversation literally makes the localization of the World Heritage Convention a cultural battleground. To support effective cross-cultural conversations between China and UNESCO, this study has sought to understand the stance of China toward its cultural heritage. In this research, interpretation of the texts (20 legal documents) and morphological analysis of the objects (2 historic cities) have been used to examine the intangible meaning of values and tangible vessels of values through China’s urban conservation. A two-case case study has been applied to present a comparative analysis between a World Heritage City (Pingyao) and a non-World Heritage City (Datong) to distinguish their different policies and practice affected by the divergent values. Reflecting their distinct orientations through diachronic and synchronic comparisons of selected legal documents, Pingyao aims to “conserve,” and Datong aims to “conserve with utilization.” Pingyao emphasizes cultural continuity and Datong emphasizes urban development. As for the morphological analysis, Pingyao has been recognized for its authenticity and integrity in its nearly intact city layout, street network, and linear architectural development from the pre-Ming dynasties to the 1980s; deserves the title of the World Heritage List by meeting three criteria of “Outstanding Universal Value.” The city layout and the grid pattern of the streets of Datong are far away from the “original” due to drastic street modifications and demolition of urban fabric since the 1980s. Disparate interpretations of the policies by local governments reveal disconnections in values between the locals and the central government. Since the Chinese urban conservation is primarily under the administration of local governments and by the three major ordinances regarding urban agendas, popular principles in the international charters are incorporated but only for reference. More complicated and ambiguous values were observed in the practice of China’s urban Conservation. “Newness value” is embraced as it is associated with improvements and modernization. Self-referentiality justifies the stylish restoration to fulfill the government’s needs of establishing orthodoxy and political rightness. For the cities and their operators, urban heritage is a resource containing economic value and use-value. Therefore, the pragmatic approach to the utilization of urban heritage essentially motivates conservation projects in local areas. Combined with the dream of "the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" promoted by President Xi, urban conservation has initiated a platform for national and local imaginations.
- Built environment