2.1 Colonial heritage, postcolonialism, and heritage discourse
Postcolonial critiques in heritage tourism are relevant to this research in two ways. The first one is the problematic duality between the people from previously colonising nations and those of the previously colonised regions. Generally, postcolonialism in heritage tourism studies has mainly concentrated on the binary opposition between the First World and the Third World (Hall and Tucker 2004). The former represents the core, hegemony, and modernity, while the latter represents the periphery, resistance, and tradition. When people from the developed countries engage in tourism, they preclude the previously colonised people from constructing their own national identity, and as such, they have been criticised for engendering a perpetual ideology of colonialism (Park 2016). Some empirical studies have come from this vein to reflect on the neo-colonisation by tourists and developers from previously colonising nations in ways of underrepresenting the colonial past associated with the colonial heritage (e.g., Aggett and van de Leur 2020; Nelson 2020; Fortenberry 2021).
However, Jørgensen (2019) and Dang (2021) point out that the overemphasis on tourists from previous colonial powers may neglect the important impacts of domestic tourists. Indeed, the binary between the colonisers and the colonised is what Edward Said initially criticised in his ground-breaking book Orientalism, as the clear-cut difference between ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ is one of the very roots of colonisation in the first place (Said 1978). Such a dichotomy is therefore criticised as a misreading of postcolonialism (Wu 2020). Additionally, colonial heritage tourism can be much more complicated than tourists from previous colonial powers negatively affecting local communities’ identity construction. For instance, Cheer and Reeves’s (2015) case study in Fiji involves conflicts within local communities separated by ethnicities that are beyond the dichotomy of colonisers and colonised. Wolff’s (2021) research on colonial heritage in Serampore shows how local communities inscribed the colonial heritage into their local identities and used it as a way to express their discontent with today’s rapid urban change compared to the moderate development and ‘good governance’ of the colonial era, which is embodied in their colonial heritage. Zhang’s (2021) research in Harbin reveals a clear generational gap where the young generation embraces the colonial heritage of the city as the symbol of their culture more than the elderly do (for more on this topic, see Lu 2022; Chuva, Aguiar, and Fonseca 2022; etc.).
Jørgensen and Dang’s observation and critique are important in the context of China because when colonial heritage sites become tourist attractions there, they receive far more domestic than international tourists. The Chinese example is therefore able to contribute to postcolonial heritage tourism research by examining how domestic tourists and markets perceive colonial history and affect colonial heritage conservation.
The second way in which postcolonialism is relevant in this research is that postcolonial heritage studies has gradually taken into consideration the complex interplay between colonial heritage and memories by unpacking the ambiguities derived from heritage discourses and the associated conservation and management practices (Marschall 2008). This is where the concepts of heritage discourse and AHD can be raised. Heritage discourse rests on the premise that heritage is a discursive practice. What is categorised as heritage and what is not, and what values and meanings are represented by heritage are subject to people’s interpretation. The configuration of heritage discourse can include the oral and written interpretation, or more formally, provision of heritage concept, criteria, and value (Yu and Zhang 2020). It is through heritage discourse that the interpretation of the values and memories of colonial heritage is achieved.
The examination of heritage discourse implies that heritage is intrinsically dissonant (Tunbridge and Ashworth 1996). It is the power relations and value judgement of the actors within heritage practices that shape heritage discourse (S. Wang 2019). Therefore, conflictual heritage discourses may arise when there are power imbalances and diverse value judgements among the multiple actors. The dominant heritage discourse is captured by the concept of authorised heritage discourse (AHD), referring to a hegemonic heritage discourse ‘which is reliant on the power/knowledge claims of technical and aesthetic experts, and institutionalised in state cultural agencies and amenity societies…The “authorised heritage discourse” privileges monumentality and grand scale, innate artefact/site significance tied to time depth, scientific/aesthetic expert judgement, social consensus and national building’ (Smith 2006, 11). In other words, AHD is a product of the elite class that prioritises expert knowledge and the role of authorities, inevitably leading to other groups being muted, particularly underprivileged people.
From a postcolonial perspective, the attempt of postcolonial nations to rebuild their heritage discourse by highly selectively branding and propagating national heritage and memory landscapes is seen as a way to cope with cultural colonisation and imperialism and offset the impact of colonial heritage (e.g., Ifversen and Pozzi 2020; Zhou 2020). Tourists at colonial heritage sites are not always passive consumers of what is presented to them but may actively engage with colonial memories to form their heritage discourses (e.g., Park 2016; Lo 2018); they may also be relatively indifferent to the colonial past, receiving it instead as pure entertainment (e.g., Nelson, 2020). As David Lowenthal (1998) elaborated, heritage is different from history in the sense that history is what happened in the past, i.e., the historical facts, whereas heritage is what people say about the past, i.e., the interpretation of the facts. The interpretation, or the formulation of heritage discourse, is a subjective process that usually serves contemporary needs (Lowenthal 1985, 1998; Tunbridge and Ashworth 1996). In the process of transforming colonial history to colonial heritage during heritage tourism in postcolonial nations, the conflicts are more often caused by the way this transformation occurs rather than by the raw material, i.e., by the authorised heritage discourses of the authorities and the tourists’ ‘lay discourses’ (Parkinson, Scott, and Redmond 2016) rather than by historical facts from the colonial era (Dang 2021).
In summary, heritage discourse provides a lens through which to investigate the dissonance emerging from colonial heritage in postcolonial nations. This research seeks to expand the postcolonial critique of heritage tourism by focusing on domestic tourists and applying AHD as a theoretical framework to explore the contestation and negotiation of the authorised heritage discourse and lay discourses and the impacts of the interaction of those two heritage discourses during the development of colonial heritage tourism.
2.2 Colonial heritage discourses in postcolonial China
After 1840, China remained a half-colonial and half-feudal nation for approximately a century; from this era, China has maintained a rich colonial heritage. Similar to some postcolonial nations that have struggled with addressing their traumatic and humiliating history of colonisation, China has undergone a big shift from the politics of excluding and destroying colonial heritage to embracing it as an important component in its heritage conservation system (H. Zhang 2018; S. Zhang 2018; Liu and Chen 2018). Such a shift has been shaped not only by the change in attitudes and methods of heritage conservation in China but also by ideological changes of the People’s Republic of China since 1949 (Zhou 2020).
It has been argued that, since Deng Xiaoping initiated the Reform and Opening in 1978, China’s economic system has combined market economy with socialism where diverse forms of ownership are allowed in addition to the mainstay public ownership. While younger generations who did not live through the revolutionary era have become relatively less familiar with Communism, Marxism-Leninism, and Mao’s socialist ideology compared to the earlier generations (e.g., Hung 2018; Svensson and Maags 2018). Following the opening up of the market, since the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party has gradually realised the appeal and importance of Chinese traditional culture and thus used culture to stimulate the sense of belonging and national identity among citizens (Oaks 2016).
The impact on colonial heritage is exemplified by the HSBC Bank Building in Shanghai that Liu and Chen (2018) used to illustrate how this colonial heritage was framed as the physical memory of China’s national humiliation in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, the associated colonial history was eliminated in the AHD to facilitate a spatial reorganisation based on socialism and the development of a Chinese communist ideology. In the new era of holistic heritage conservation, the building has now been designated as a national heritage unit and has been preserved and rebranded as part of the sociocultural memory of the country.
Against the backdrop of the constant need for nation-building since 1949, some colonial heritage sites in China have become the ‘patriotic education base’ where government agencies, state-owned enterprises, and schools organise group tours to elicit nationalism and patriotism (Zhou 2020). Furthermore, at the onset, whether it was appropriate to exploit colonial heritage as an economic resource for tourism was controversial (Wang 2005). However, influenced by large-scale heritage commodification and guided by local governments’ pursuit of economic gains, many colonial heritage sites have ultimately and inevitably been used as tourist attractions (e.g., Chang 2017; H. Zhang 2018; Chauffert-Yvart et al. 2020).
Clearly, China’s national ideology has shifted to a more open-minded and cultural-focused way where Chinese traditional culture and history is playing an increasingly significant role in terms of boosting citizens’ cultural confidence and enhancing the nation’s soft power since the 1980s (Zhang 2010). Part of this shift is also the change in the AHD in the development of conservation and tourism policies for colonial heritage sites. Currently, the AHD of the Chinese central government regarding colonial heritage is to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship between China and other countries. Therefore, colonial heritage is promoted as the witness of cultural exchanges between China and other countries, such as the former Italian concession in Tianjin, which celebrates the flourishing of Italian culture in China (Chauffert-Yvart et al. 2020). In the meantime, the prevalence of consumerism offers a good opportunity for local governments to revitalise colonial heritage to fulfil tourists’ nostalgic feelings and imaginations towards the ‘mysterious’ and ‘colourful’ colonial era in the major cities of China (Ifversen and Pozzi 2020).
Regardless of what purposes colonial heritage tourism in China serve, the commonplace is that during tourism development, the value and history of colonial heritage are selectively (re)interpreted. Selective interpretation is omnipresent around the world with all types of heritage (Ashworth 1994). However, selective interpretation of colonial heritage is worth examining in particular as it is usually questioned whether the selective interpretation equals an embellishment of negative history. Furthermore, the ways in which selective interpretation and the embellishing of history may influence tourists’ experience and lay discourses as well as the conservation of colonial heritage is worth exploring (Tan and Choy 2020; Ernsten 2021). Wong’s (2013) research in Macau shows that because mainland Chinese tourists are not fond of colonial history, tour guides there usually omit colonial history during their colonial heritage tours. However, when they encounter tourists from other countries, colonial history is an important element of their interpretation. Wong, therefore, calls this phenomenon the ‘sanitisation of colonial history’ (Wong 2013, 915). In their research in Shameen, Guangzhou, Zhao and Zhang (2018) argue that background knowledge of colonial heritage may cause more negative feelings in tourists by lowering their joyful emotions and intensifying their anger, sorrow, and fear. However, knowledge of colonial history does not fundamentally change tourists’ objectives of seeking entertainment. In their research in Hong Kong, Wang, DiMeolo, and Du (2021) adopt a slightly different angle and contend that people’s heritage discourses regarding colonial heritage are influenced by various economic and political factors, such as the economic achievement of the government and society as a whole and diplomatic relations with various countries and regions.
These debates highlight that the AHD around colonial heritage in China is complex. The interaction between the AHD and tourists’ lay discourses are made even more complex as more contextual factors are usually involved (Zhang 2021). This research aims to contribute a new case study and new insight to untangle this complexity by looking at how the AHD and tourists’ lay discourses interact and how the interaction reflects deeper conflicts within the process of colonial heritage tourism development.