11.00 The Future of the Past: Politics of Urban Heritage in Xi’an
Heritage development in historical cities is regarded as a vital ingredient of urban regeneration by state and local governments. The inner city of Xi’an, China, traditionally with a high residential density, is currently undergoing a process of renovation aimed at transforming it into a functioning replica of the Tang-era Imperial City. Guided by a fifty-year governmental city plan, historic monuments were transformed to theme parks in the name of authenticity, seeking to recreate the illusion of the glorious past of Chinese civilization. Antique markets and high-end residential houses were built to attract investors and middle-class residents across China. Meanwhile, a large number of buildings were demolished and local residents were relocated to other districts of the city.
Behind the backdrop of this on-going urban renewal project, the complex associations of various actors co-construct urban heritage spaces through contestation and meaning-making: the municipal government implements urban policies with its own entrepreneurial agendas; real-estate investors utilize pasts and cultural traditions for commercialization and consumption, and immigrants inhabit invented urban spaces searching for traditional lifestyles and cosmopolitan identities. Against this background, heritage projects lead to dispossession, gentrification, and social stratification. The original residents negotiate and manifest their identity through daily practices.
This paper will explore the ways in which heritage is used as a driver of urban regeneration and how heritage offers various rationales to support state-led urban planning. The case study of urban regeneration of Xi’an illustrates that heritage facilitates the discourses of beauty, pride, and fun. Heritage projects improve the aesthetics of the urban landscape and create a sense of national pride; they also offer opportunities for people to consume and enjoy personal pleasure. These three discourses result in a process of control and a sense of governmentality that lead people (local residents, migrants, and tourists) to share a similar vision of the city. Despite the perceived negative issues that resulted from the urban regeneration project, the resistance or social struggle often focuses on detailed complaints about compensation or personal interests, instead of heritage and the future of the city.