In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Heritage Management

  • Introducton
  • A Brief History of Heritage Management
  • General Overviews
  • Organizations and Web Information
  • Data Sources
  • Managing Natural Heritage
  • Legal, Economic, Political, Social, and Technical Issues

Chinese Studies Heritage Management
Tracey L-D Lu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0071


Similar to the original meaning of its counterpart in English, in traditional Chinese culture the term “heritage” 遗产 means properties inherited from ancestors. After the 1920s, modern archaeology and the study of historic buildings were introduced into China, and some Chinese scholars trained in the West began to study and preserve China’s past. In the 1950s, terms of “material and spiritual cultural remains” were used in archaeological and museological discourse, but without clear definitions and managerial approaches apart from collecting and placing these items in museums. Since 1985, when the National Congress of the People’s Republic of China ratified the 1972 Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the discourse and practices designed and promoted by UNESCO have been adopted in China. To date, prima facie China has been following the guideline of the UNESCO 1972 Convention on protecting tangible heritage, and the UNESCO 2003 Convention of Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. As of 2012, China ranks third on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in terms of the quantity of tangible heritage, with nine natural heritage sites, thirty cultural heritage properties, and four combined natural and cultural heritage properties enlisted. In addition, twenty-nine intangible cultural heritage properties from China have been included on UNESCO’s “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanities”; another seven properties are on UNESCO’s “List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.” Meanwhile, heritage studies have become a very popular field in China since the 1980s, and hundreds of books, articles, and book chapters have been written by archaeologists, architects, artists, business managers, conservators, cultural anthropologists, geographers, geologists, government officials, historians, musicians, sociologists, and scholars of other related fields within and outside China.

A Brief History of Heritage Management

If “heritage” means something old, important, and worth being collected, preserved, and passed on to future generations, then only antiquities could be defined as “heritage” in China prior to the 1930s. However, with cultural influences from the West and political and social conflicts in the early 20th century, this perception changed after the 1930s. Fairbank 1994 is a biography about the life and pioneering work of a Chinese couple, Liang Sicheng and Lin Hui Yin; both grew up in Chinese elite families, were trained in the United States, led the earliest survey and research of traditional Chinese buildings in the 1930s and the 1940s, and proposed techniques and principles for repairing the old buildings. Guojia Wenwuju 2002 is a chronology of the management of cultural heritage in mainland China from 1949 to 1999 and lists national legislation up to 1999. Hopkirk 2001 is a comprehensive account of how Western adventurers explored and seized heritage properties in China in the early 20th century, when the Chinese state did not manage its own heritage. Lin 2008 gives a very detailed account on the beginning and development of studying historic buildings after the 1930s by Zhongguo Yingzao Xueshe 中国营造学社, a private and the first academic association founded by an official scholar, Zhu Qiqian 朱启钤, in 1930, focusing on survey and studying historic buildings, Buddhist grottos, and other monuments from 1930 to 1945 in mainland China, with Liang, Lin, and other scholars being core members. Shan 2008 illustrates the occurrence and development of heritage management in mainland China from the early 20th century to the present and is a typical official discourse in the field; the author was the director of Guojia Wenwuju (State Administration of Cultural Heritage) for several years, until 2011. Shi 2009 is about the history of antiquity management, archaeology, and related museum development from 1840 to 1949 in China. Wei 1937, though very dated, remains the most comprehensive review on the history of antiquity collection and studies, from the Bronze Age to 1930s China, and lists the first national legislation on antiquity management passed by the government of the Republic of China in 1930, so the book is an important archive itself. Yin 2009 is an overview of tangible heritage management in China from the early 20th century to the present and is a critique on the commercialization of heritage in China after the implementation of the Opening Policy in 1978.

  • Fairbank, Wilma. Liang and Lin: Partners in Exploring China’s Architectural Past. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

    The book describes the family background and the professional and personal life of Liang and Lin and their achievements and sufferings in the 1930s and after 1949. This is must-read for anyone who wants to know the cultural context and history of studying and managing traditional buildings as “tangible cultural heritage” in China.

  • Guojia Wenwuju 国家文物局. Zhonghua renmin gongheguo wenwu bowuguan shiye jishi 1949–1999 (中华人民共和国文物博物馆事业纪事 1949–1999). 2 vols. Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 2002.

    The book is a chronology of heritage and museum management of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 1999. It records the establishment of administrative departments of heritage management, museums, teaching departments in universities, and other institutes in each province in mainland China on a monthly base, listing important archaeological excavations and managerial approaches. It is a good source for understanding the history of heritage management in mainland China after 1949.

  • Hopkirk, Peter. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    The book, originally published in 1980, describes how British, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Russian, Swedish, US, and other Western adventurers dug, took, stole, and even fought for antiquities in many archaeological sites, grottos of Buddhism arts, and historic cities in northwest China in the early 20th century, when the Chinese state did not have the power to implement heritage management.

  • Lin Zhu 林洙. Zhongguo yingzao xueshe shilue (中国营造学社史略). Tianjin, China: Baihua wenyi chubanshe, 2008.

    This book reviews the history, structure, funding resources, and achievements of the Society for the Research in Chinese Architecture from 1930 to 1945, and major works done by its members. The founding director of the Society, Zhu Qiqian, who had been ignored in the past due to his political alliance in the 1920s, is also described quite objectively in the book. This is a good work on the history of studying and managing historic buildings in China.

  • Shan Jixiang 单霁翔. Cong “wenwu baohu” zouxiang “wenhua yichan baohu” (从文物保护走向文化遗产保护). Tianjin, China: Tianjin daxue chubanshe, 2008.

    The book introduces international principles and ideas on heritage management, reviews the history of managing the past in China from the early 20th century to the present, and proposes different approaches to manage different types of heritage.

  • Shi Yong 史勇. Zhongguo jindai wenwu shiye jianshi (中国近代文物事业简史). Lanzhou, China: Gansu renmin chubanshe, 2009.

    The book reviews the history of antiquity preservation and management, museum establishment and academic exchanges on heritage studies, and the development of archaeological works in China from 1840 to 1949.

  • Wei Juxian 卫聚贤. Zhongguo kaoguxue shi (中国考古学史). Zhongguo wenhua shicongshu 1. Shanghai: Shangwu yinshuguan, 1937.

    Though a bit dated, this is a good work on the history of antiquity studies in China. It discusses how the ruling class in ancient China used antiquities to legitimate their political power and glorify the state, how Chinese literati studied antiquities for their own interests, how faked items have been made since the 10th century, and how modern archaeology and antiquity management were introduced into and practiced in China after the 1920s. Republished as recently as 2005 (Beijing: Tuanjie chubanshe).

  • Yin Baoning 殷寶寧. “Wenhua datai, jingji changxi? Zhongguo wenwu baohu faling yu zhengce bianqian licheng fenxi” (文化搭台,經濟唱戲?中國文物保護法令與政策變遷歷程分析). Taiwan guoji yanjiu jikan 台灣國際研究季刊 5.3 (2009): 95–119.

    This article briefly reviews heritage management before 1949 and criticizes the commercialization of heritage for the purpose of economic development in many regions after the 1970s in mainland China, which reflects a significantly changed cultural context in the post-Mao era.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.