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Studies on the Heritagisation of “Nüshu” in China: Heritage Discourses and Identity-Making

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posted on 14.01.2022, 12:26 by Xihuan Hu
This study explores the identity-making of heritage participants and discourse construction of intangible cultural heritage Nüshu (a female created scripts and culture in ancient China, now a national intangible cultural heritage) in contemporary China. This study investigates two heritage discourses in the heritage community: the official heritage discourse and the folk heritage discourse. It demonstrates how participants of these discourses shape, legitimate, and reinforce their heritage identity through different authenticating mechanisms to declare their authenticity in heritage. The theoretical framework of this research links identity, discourse, and heritage, considering the authorised heritage discourse (AHD) and critical heritage studies (CHS) in Chinese context. It also draws on the connection between (intangible) heritage authenticity and cool/hot authentication and how these factors matter heritage identity-making and discourse construction. This study employed multiple methods to obtain the research data, including qualitative in-depth interviews with 25 heritage participants, participant observation in the fieldwork, and a four-year digital ethnography of several digital heritage social media. Critical discourse analysis (CDA) was employed for data analysis. The findings of the research offer insights to the heritage-making and identity-making in the Nüshu ICH community. It shows how Nüshu has become a heritage site of continuing power conflicts among its stakeholders. This study demonstrates how hierarchical authentication and hierarchical identity are made in Chinese intangible cultural heritage. It reveals the relation between “cool” authentication and authenticity declaration and heritage industry construction. The analysis argues the hierarchical, authoritative, and political-economic oriented features of China's official heritage discourse. Then, this study highlights the significance of digitalisation of heritage practices and demonstrates how “hot” authentication is achieved by the folk heritage community through democratic election of folk transmitters on social media. The analysis proves that digital technology and social media have given the non-elites, indigenous members a space to shape and speak for their heritage identity. Heritage practices of the folk participants in virtual community demonstrates a bottom-up,
grassroot heritage autonomy with democratic characteristics. This study makes theoretical contributions to Nüshu studies, AHD and CHS theories, and identity-making
theories in heritage.



Yan Ying

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School of Media, Communication and Sociology

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University of Leicester

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