My research focuses on cultural restoration and preservation after disasters. I received my PhD in Anthropology from Tulane University (USA) in 2016. In my dissertation, “Making Disaster Zones into ‘Scenic Sites,’ Homelands into ‘Gardens,’ Peasants into ‘Grateful Survivors:’ The Chinese State in Qiang Village Earthquake Recovery,” I studied the Chinese state-led post-disaster recovery projects for the ethnic minority Qiang people in southwest China after 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The dissertation examined both the state’s conception of the Qiang through its policies and projects, and the range of Qiang villagers’ response to the reconstruction and negotiation of their lives and relationships—revealing complexities and problems of this “culturally sensitive” recovery project. My dissertation research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for Scholarly Exchange, Association for Asian Studies, among others.
At IIAS, I am working on a project titled “Cultural Heritagization in Times of Crisis: A Chinese Experience,” which investigates if and how heritagization is an effective measure for cultural preservation and community development in the heavily-affected ethnic minority Qiang regions since 2008. The research discusses how urgent heritagization highlights the related cultural items’ political viability, scientific validity, educational utility and social positivity, so that they might contribute to a nationalist construction of a modernizing and harmonious multi-ethnic China in a time of crisis. Heritagization in this research refers to the normative and institutional processes which grant cultural practices and physical elements the status of “heritage.” Understanding heritagization as state- and scholar-led projects, the research examines the political and ideological incentives in such measures. It analyzes how heritagization helps affected areas to rebuild their economic structure through the controversial development of heritage tourism. Heritagization’s contested impacts on the psychological healing and mental well-being of the affected population are also considered.
This research contributes to the study on China’s cultural heritage politics by analyzing its relation with the nation’s modernization experiment embedded in its struggling negotiation with science, culture, economy, environment, nationalism and international relations. I also aim to provide advice on how the highly-politicized and cost-conservative heritagization initiatives can enable the blossom of organic cultural changes as well as community-based projects that may better facilitate the socio-psychological recovery after disasters.