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14.00  Discovering a Heritage Site: Trauma, Place, Memory

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9:00, Lundi 6 Juin 2016 (15 minutes)

Trauma gains a cultural significance when it happens at a collective level. It is not “the result of a group experiencing pain,” but “the result of this acute discomfort entering into the core of the collectivity’s sense of its own identity.” Trauma is not intangible; it is embodied by and inscribed in place. The physicality of a location enables people to “relate trauma to a physical space, interact with it, and commemorate at it.” Trauma analysis based on place has been focused on “the geography of physically, socially and mnemonically appropriated space.” The material remnants at a place give the past a form. In the process of locating and mapping the past through place, “social groups and individuals give a shape to their desire to be connected to that which is no longer metaphysically present, but that which continues to have an important presence in their contemporary lives.”

Heritage studies has been concerned with the listed building heritage, historic sites and cultural landscape, with little interest in the value of ordinary neighbourhoods and communities as heritage sites. In recent years, studies on the identity of cities and neighbourhoods have mushroomed. These studies promote a better understanding of the subjective side of the city and provide more cultural information for urbanization. This poster is based on a field research commissioned by Quzhou Cultural Bureau who was interested in exploring the intangible cultural heritage value of a local community called Shuitingmen to provide a cultural basis for the renovation of the area. In the process of the study, we found that this is a place that has witnessed many traumatic events, some of which are still fresh in many aged people’s memories like the murder of missionaries during the Yihetuan Movement and the pain inflicted by the Japanese Germ War. Memories are triggered by the pavement on the street, a burnt print on the wall, a renovated house, a painting by the local artist or an old picture of a deceased relative. They come back afresh when people are physically located in the space even when there is no material trace to be found.

The study used a descriptive-narrative approach to analyze the trauma memories by place-making. By investigating the historical data and collecting oral accounts, the value of the seemingly ordinary community as a heritage site begins to emerge. Layers of traumatic memory revealed cultural practices that have almost sunk into oblivion. When suspected murderers of the missionaries were caught and sent to Hangzhou to be executed, the local people offered sacrifices along Shuitingmen, a practice that is ordinarily performed at a tomb and reflects the “Li” culture. Individual memories of the Japanese Germ War, their house and the change of personal fate are studied as well as the commemoration of a Guomingdang General at Xi’anmen. Memories were not limited to individual sufferings, the transformation of the whole clan’s destiny presents a more mournful picture. Understanding the people and their interpretation of the place provides a vernacular knowledge of the place and helps the local people establish their sense of identity. But above all, it enables us to unveil the layers of history of the local place and thereby find its meaning as a heritage site.

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