Framing Landscape, Urban Reconstruction, and Cultural Preservation of Modern Xi’an and Northwest China

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm
Room 2

  • Organised by Fei Huang
  • Shuk Wah Poon, Chair
  • Fei Huang, “Hot Springs, Trees and Nature at Huaqing Spa Resorts in Modern Xi’an”
  • Ke Ren, “Cultural Preservation and Ethnographic Observation in Wartime China: The ‘Archaeological Travelogues’ of Wang Ziyun and He Zhenghuang”
  • Pan Wei, “Mobilising Farm Households and Traditional Hydraulic System during Late Imperial and Modern Northwest China”
  • Shuk Wah Poon, Discussant

As one of the most important cities in China, Xi’an served as the capital of thirteen dynasties throughout early and medieval Chinese history. After the imperial political and economic centre moved to eastern China in the tenth century, it was downgraded to a local city in the hinterland. In the late nineteenth and early-twentieth-century, both Xi’an and Northwest China were reintroduced into the public discussion as a locus from which to preserve the roots of Chinese culture and provide a last resort. Only a few works focus on later urban and agricultural developments in the modern Xi’an and the Northwest Region. This panel seeks to explore how different social actors involved in the development of modern urban reconstruction, local farming landscape and cultural preservation. It begins with Wei Pan’s investigation of the “mobilising farm household” and water management in the local society in order to reexamine the processes of modernisation in the exploitation of water resources. Fei Huang (Panel Organizer) then investigates the maintenance and reconstruction of hot springs resorts in early twentieth-century Xi’an to understand the management of cultural landscapes associated with modern developmentalism. Ke Ren studies the “archaeological travelogues” by Chinese intellectuals in their cultural preservation and ethnographic observation of Xi’an and Northwest China during the War of Resistance. Poon Shuk Wah serves Panel Chair and discussant. Through three papers, this panel allows us to rethink the Chinese hinterland city and county beyond the postcolonial or semi-colonial analytical mode, often applied to studies of Shanghai and other coastal or port cities and counties in modern China.

Fei Huang, “Hot Springs, Trees and Nature at Huaqing Spa Resorts in Modern Xi’an”

This paper focuses on the most well-known hot spring resorts in China, Huaqing Palace, and its surrounding landscape. It will first illustrate the process of its transformation from an imperial palace into a local prefecture garden in the late nineteenth century. In the first of early twentieth century, Huaqing Palace, Mount Li, and the surrounding landscape was recognized and reconstructed as a landscape maintenance district during the urban planning of the “Western Capital”. A national monumental pavilion of the “suffering of difficulties” of Chiang Kai-shek, the national leader of Republic China, was constructed on Mount Li along with the forest park to attract more tourists for history and nature tours alongside the public bathing activities. While a travel agency managed the bathing business, the forest park was under the charge of the local forest bureau for the scientific afforestation and modern forest protection. The process of establishing the forest park went along with the redefining of property rights of the lands and natural resources within this landscape maintenance district. Local inhabitants and businessmen, temple residents, mountain bandits, and tourists were all involved in this process. Huaqing Palace and the Mount Li areas became a contested space for various social actors to compete in the early twentieth century. This project will reveal how diverse perceptions and activities connected to the hot spring resorts, forest park and historical relics have been developed in both conflict and interaction with various social communities during the early twentieth century.

Ke Ren, “Cultural Preservation and Ethnographic Observation in Wartime China: The “Archaeological Travelogues” of Wang Ziyun and He Zhenghuang”

In 1940, as China’s War of Resistance against Japan settled into a stalemate, the Chinese Ministry of Education authorized a Northwest Art and Artifacts Research Team to survey artefacts and monuments in northwestern China. Headed by the sculptor Wang Ziyun (1897–1990), the group of artists engaged in a five-year intensive study of sculptures, steles, and cave paintings in the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, and Qinghai, including the Dunhuang caves. Using techniques such as photography, rubbings, and sketching, the group catalogued thousands of historical artworks and artefacts, hosted exhibitions, and laid the foundations for important archaeological research and historical museums. Operating in a time of national crisis, this Nationalist government-sponsored project served the dual purpose of collecting and preserving cultural artefacts while making a historical claim for Chinese civilization in the region. This research project thus mirrored the efforts by contemporary scholars to write key northwestern cities such as Xi’an into China’s modern national history. At the same time, the travel writings of Wang Ziyun and his wife and colleague He Zhenghuang (1914–1994) also included rich observations of an ethnically diverse local social life in and around Xi’an. Reading Wand and He’s diaries and published travel essays within the wartime context, this paper argues that their “archaeological travelogues” (kaogu youji) constituted both a nationalistic project of cultural preservation as well as an ethnographic portrait of northwest China. The result is a compelling record of coastal Chinese intellectuals trying to come to terms with an imagined shared past as well as a dynamic and diverse nation in the present.

Pan Wei, “Mobilising Farm Households and Traditional Hydraulic System during Late Imperial and Modern Northwest China”

Water management in late imperial Chinese local society was closely connected with the distribution of local water resources and land rehabilitation. Traditional local society in the Northwest China developed its own water policy to effectively ensure an equal distribution of resources. In the transformation of  water and irrigation management from the late imperial to modern period, increasing conflicts on the right of water usage appeared between different local social groups. Among these various social groups, the “mobilising farm household” (yiqiuhu) and its role in this transition period deserve our further attention. The term “mobilising farm household” refers to a certain farming group which constantly moved from one location to another location to continue their farming activities. Their highly mobile status, however, frequently challenged the existing local water distributing system. This paper focuses on the everyday life of the “mobilising farm household” in Minqin County in Northwest China during the agriculture landscape transformation from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. It aims to demonstrate that the conflicts between mobilising farm households with other local communities, as well as the local government, strongly echoes the processes of modernization in the exploitation of water resources.

Event Timeslots (1)

Room 2