The Tension between Rights and Cultural Heritage Protection in China

Stefan Gruber, 'The Tension between Rights and Cultural Heritage Protection in China' in: Andrea Durbach and Lucas Lixinski (eds) Heritage, Culture and Rights: Challenging Legal Discourses (Hart Publishing: Oxford 2017) 149-163

18 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2017 Last revised: 7 May 2017

See all articles by Stefan Gruber

Stefan Gruber

Wuhan University; The University of Sydney - Faculty of Law; Waseda University; Kyoto University - Hakubi Center for Advanced Research

Date Written: March 25, 2017

Abstract

This paper highlights the tension between China’s present cultural heritage conservation law and policy on the one hand and the promotion of human rights, particularly the rights to cultural heritage and cultural identity, on the other hand. It examines the links between the conservation of heritage and human rights in a legal and policy context and adopts the position that heritage protection and the concept of human rights are integrally linked. However, the chapter demonstrates that in current Chinese law and policy, these links are not adequately displayed—or are distinctly absent—to the detriment of many relevant stakeholders. In regard to cultural heritage, human rights are taken to include the rights of communities to identify, define, access, manage and control their heritage. The chapter is informed by the assumption that the recognition of the rights of people to their own cultural heritage and the provision for its adequate conservation contributes to the promotion of human rights, both in China and in other parts of the world.

China is a particularly fascinating case study in this context as it features one of the world’s oldest continuing cultures while simultaneously experiencing rapid development, significant social change, and an ongoing disappearance of cultural heritage on an immense scale over the last decades. In view of these challenges, the Chinese government has undertaken enormous steps in recent years to promote the protection of some of the nation’s cultural heritage, although the focus in this regard appears to be rather on utilising cultural heritage as an economic source and promoting national unity and pride. As a consequence, China has become one of the countries with the highest number of heritage properties inscribed on the World Heritage List and the Intangible Heritage List. However, less prominent heritage assets are much less likely to be awarded adequate protection if they are not considered to be of sufficient economic or political value. Possible rights or interests of local stakeholders are regularly set aside. The tension between rights and cultural heritage protection in this context is illustrated by examples related to development and the intentional destruction of heritage, gentrification and inhabited heritage sites, and increases in cultural uniformity and loss of diversity.

Keywords: Cultural heritage, human rights, China, heritage law, public participation, gentrefication, minorities, planning law

Suggested Citation

Gruber, Stefan, The Tension between Rights and Cultural Heritage Protection in China (March 25, 2017). Stefan Gruber, 'The Tension between Rights and Cultural Heritage Protection in China' in: Andrea Durbach and Lucas Lixinski (eds) Heritage, Culture and Rights: Challenging Legal Discourses (Hart Publishing: Oxford 2017) 149-163, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2940634

Stefan Gruber (Contact Author)

Wuhan University ( email )

School of Law
Luojia Hill, Wuchang
Wuhan, Hubei Province 430072
China

The University of Sydney - Faculty of Law ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006
Australia

Waseda University ( email )

1-104 Totsukamachi, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo, 169-8050
Japan

Kyoto University - Hakubi Center for Advanced Research ( email )

Yoshidahonmachi
Sakyo Ward
Kyoto, 606-8501
Japan

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