The Suojia Ecomuseum in China: A New Rural Landscape Planning Approach for Ethnic Minority People?

By Sabrina Hong Yi.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

China hosts 55 ethnic minority groups which together account for 8.41% of the Chinese population. These populations reside in predominantly ethnic minority villages presenting great value in their culture and their heritage, with living landscape activities, festivals, traditional architecture and costumes. However, their actual living conditions are very poor. Since the 1990s, China has adopted French concept of ‘ecomuseum’, or ‘ecomusee’, for the conservation of some ethnic villages to relieve the conflict between poverty and heritage conservation. In short, this concept involves the creation of open-air museums keeping buildings and people in their original sites, with local communities serving as curators and managing their own sites, which necessitates democracy in the conservation and interpretation processes. The concept seems ideal for the Chinese government, with its bilateral objectives of heritage conservation and poverty alleviation, without necessitating the relocation of any people or buildings. However, does this concept really work? It remains unanswered and the subject of little academic research. In order to examine how successfully ecomuseums are being managed, the first Chinese ecomuseum—the Suojia Ecomuseum has been selected by the author as a case study. An in-depth field study has been conducted at his ecomuseum, involving the methodologies of site observation, documentation and semi-structured interviews. This paper reviews the ecomuseum concept in Western countries and then provides a detailed critique as well as an overview of the Suojia Ecomuseum, and summarizes the key pertinent issues. The evidence collected from field study at the Suojia Ecomuseum is described as the core part of this paper, in terms of its background, management structure, programs and activities as well as outcomes. Based upon these descriptions, the key problems of the Suojia Ecomuseum are identified, leading to a discussion regarding to how much extent the Suojia Ecomuseum has achieved the philosophy and practices of the original Western ecomuseum concept. The essential elements of the Suojia ecomuseum are then considered at the end of this paper and conclusions drawn as to the suggestions to Chinese ecomuseums.

Keywords: China, Ecomuseum, Poverty Alleviation, Heritage Conservation, Sustainability

The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.51-69. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.539MB).

Sabrina Hong Yi

PhD Candidate, School of Architecture and Building, Faculty of Science and Technology, Deakin University, Geelong, VIC, Australia

Sabrina Hong Yi completed her Masters degree in June 2009 in Xi’an, China. Currently she is a PhD candidate at Deakin University, Australia with an interest in cultural landscape conservation, especially in the role of ecomuseums. Her current research focuses on ecomuseum evaluation in China.

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