Historical Memory and Ethnic Tensions in Contemporary China

August 6, 2015

The tourism boom in China that began in the late 1970s was as much a political as an economic project. Historical narratives promoted at tourist sites exert a major influence on popular historical memory and, through this, disseminate formulations about what China is and what it means to be Chinese. In this seminar, Visiting PhD candidate Annetta Fotopoulos will examine narratives at two sites: the Imperial Mountain Resort (避暑山莊) at Chengde and the Temple to Yue Fei in Hangzhou (岳王廟), in order to show how they relate to the issue of ethnic tension in modern China. The seminar will be moderated by Dr. Lily Gardner Feldman, Director of the AGI Society, Culture & Politics Program.

The boundaries of contemporary China include territories traditionally considered “outer territories” and formerly occupied predominantly by what were historically considered barbarian peoples, including the Uyghur-occupied province of Xinjiang, the Mongolian-occupied province of Inner Mongolia, and the Tibetan-occupied territory of Tibet. Sites such as the Mountain Resort and the Temple to Yue Fei promote selective historical narratives that reinforce the legitimacy of the current boundaries of the Chinese nation by projecting the contemporary notion of a unified multiethnic China backward into imperial history. By examining a selection of narratives and iconography currently on display at these sites, Ms. Fotopoulos will elucidate the ideological machinery that reifies the state’s vision of multi-ethnic China.


Annetta Fotopoulos is currently a doctoral candidate in the Asian Studies Department in the Field of Asian Literature, Culture and Religion at Cornell University. She earned her BA from Johns Hopkins University in 2008 and her MA from Cornell in 2011. Her dissertation is entitled “Sites as Media of Memory: A Cultural Memory Approach to Heritage Sites in Contemporary China.” Her research interests include collective memory, media studies, historical geography, cultural heritage and repatriation, Chinese nationalism, identity politics, and tourism in post-Mao China.

Please contact Ms. Kimberly Hauge with any questions at khauge@aicgs.org.

Washington, DC
United States