From Sacred Wu-Yue to “The Center of Heaven and Earth”–Constructing an Imperial Landscape and a Global Heritage in China

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Abstract

Wu-Yue, meaning five-mountains, refers to five sacred mountains in China. The sacredness of this cultural landscape was manifested through the religious activities centered in those mountains and the state rituals of imperial China. This sacredness became recognized in the global context in 2010, when one mountain became the physical context of a newly inscribed World Heritage Cultural Site that purported to be at “The Center of Heaven and Earth.” However, the sacred mountain itself was deliberately excluded from the narratives justifying the value of this heritage. Drawing upon archival research and limited fieldwork, this paper argues that although both Wu-Yue and “The Center of Heaven and Earth” are manipulated cultural concepts heavily charged with political agendas, significant differences exist between the processes of making these two heritages, the players involved in such processes, and the consequences of the socio-politically produced space. Wu-Yue, representing the ideological construct of the state power, was gradually established and constantly redefined over 3000 years through evolving ritual performances and cultural practices. In contrast, “The Center of Heaven and Earth” was created between the 2009 and 2010 sessions of the World Heritage Committee, yet with an embedded new political agenda: modern China, represented by a historical capital of imperial China, has become the center of the known world, from which a new global power is ascending.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalHeritage and Society
DOIs
StateE-pub ahead of print - Jul 6 2023

Keywords

  • authorized heritage discourse
  • center of heaven and earth
  • center of the earth
  • China
  • cultural landscape
  • instrumentalization of heritage
  • socially constructed space
  • World heritage site

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Conservation
  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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