On Cultural Patrimony

This week’s readings touched on the various facets of cultural appropriation, examining the definition and interpretation of the concept and that of culture, locating common themes, exploring diversity in these fields, discussing outsider misappropriation and misappropriation, as well as cultural patrimony.

I am particularly interested in the topic on cultural patrimony. There is a heated debate since 1990s over the ownership of cultural property, mostly between the schools of cultural nationalist and cultural internationalist. While the former believes that a nation’s cultural property belongs within the borders of the nation where it was created, the later argues that human beings have a common heritage and that cultural property is of interest to everyone where ever it is located. I have a mixed feeling every time I visited the Metropolitan Museum or museums alike that hold large collections of Chinese cultural/art treasure, which were never seen and more valuable/precious than those in the National Museum of China. One the one hand, I wish some of these cultural relics (and other looted antiquities) could be returned to China via restitution, donation, auction or whichever means available; on the other hand, I feel relieved and fortunate that these cultural objects were preserved, not damaged by the Chinese civil war, the Japanese invasion and cultural revolution, and my generation can still have access to these cultural heritage, even though they are out of the home land. I wonder what can be done to bridge the divide between nationalism and internationalism regarding cultural property.

There is an interesting article published in 2009 entitled “China Hunts for Art Treasures in U.S. Museums” which may help us understand cultural politics and the return of looted antiquities. It reveals that China’s campaign to reclaim relics plundered by foreign/western powers during the period between 1842 and 1945, is actually fueled by national pride and its targeted audiences are those back home, aiming at arousing nationalist sentiment. For those of you who are interested, the link is as below:


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