ANR Tianjin Project

The project ANR Tianjin (visit here the ANR page of the project) aims at analyzing the politics of architectural and cultural heritages in China through the example of the innovative “Tianjin experience”. By politics, we mean official policies, both local and national, but also the way they are confronted to and influenced by a diversity of initiatives stemming from the civil society, as controversial as this last concept may be. By politics, we mean also the fact that the initiatives taken in a locality such as Tianjin have become precedents for the protection of “cultural heritage” in other Chinese cities. The present project ANR Tianjin thus aims at using Tianjin case to set the standards for examining the situation faced elsewhere in China.

Most importantly, this project ANR Tianjin aims, through the first historical and sociological study of the “Tianjin Model” as a dynamic and original process initially linked to architectural heritage concerns, to follow the unexpected process of making a cultural heritage in Tianjin after 2004.  We will observe how given objects, ideas, knowledge, experience, living bodies were identified and valued on present terms. We will study how an unprecedented collective investigation stemming from the civil society and aiming at identifying an architectural heritage lead to the assembly of a cultural heritage disconnected from but interacting with the official local cultural heritage. In this process, the forms of association between the various components of the heritage at stake are as important as the assembled entities, thus reconfiguring lists, categories and usual identification dynamics.

Such a process is affected by existing national and international categories which are translated, transported and used by the different parties at stake in very different ways. It is also embedded in a specific historical experience. The complex relationship observed within Chinese society towards its own past, and namely its ghosts, is thus at the core of the project ANR Tianjin. The present political regime, in order to stress its legitimacy, traces indeed rather blurred and inconsistent boundaries between different moments of the past as well as between the present and the past. Knowledge about the recent past is scarce and controlled. Various kinds of uncertainties plague the past but also, as a consequence, the present and the future. A much needed public debate about “what has been”, “what is”, “what should be”, “what is to be valued in common” is difficult, finding nonetheless some form of legitimacy in discussions around architectural and cultural heritage.

Because of its specificities, the Tianjin experience under study can pave the way to new forms of action in countries where a heritage, apparently well circumscribed and stabilized, is nonetheless threatened, as it can offer suggestions for countries where sudden existing threats induce the necessity to hastily identify a heritage.

The project ANR Tianjin, coordinated by the Centre d’Études sur la Chine Moderne et Contemporaine (CECMC, under the authority of the French National Center for Scientific Research or CNRS and the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences or EHESS) relies on a strong academic interdisciplinary team (gathering historians, sociologists, anthropologists, architects), composed of European and Chinese researchers, with a solid implementation among local official, experts and a group called the Volunteers in Tianjin.

The project ANR Tianjin will make an inventive us of the Geographic Information System and the Network Analysis tools by having BL SET private company as one of the two institutional partners, and by collaborating with the Geomatics Platform of EHESS. BL SET has already contributed to many innovative projects in the field of GIS. GIS resources will be here combined with detailed historiographic, sociological and ethnographic investigations as well as relational data to offer new tools to create knowledge and comparisons regarding cultural heritage.