REIMAGINING CHINESE IDENTITIES THROUGH A TANG DYNASTY LANDSCAPE: XI’AN’s QU JIANG LAKE AREA

Authors: James Smith*, Towson University
Topics: China, Eurasia, Urban Geography
Keywords: China, urban landscape, place, identities
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom A, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Landscapes reflect socio-cultural and political priorities through materials such as stone, bronze, flora and water. Culture-etched surfaces reflect the self-perceptions and identities of the people who create them. Deploying specific (and contested) discourses of national identities, institutions seek to create local landscapes that turn the minds of citizens to selective versions of the past, a non-critical present and inspiring visions of the future. Yet, identities are malleable, as social change often combines with ideological shifts to produce different identity discourses. In China, as socialist ideology is no longer the primary foundation of state legitimacy, Han-centric identity discourses have reemerged. But in such a large territory with an ethnically and regionally diverse population, what is “Chinese”, particularly in light of areal differences that enable alternative interpretations of the meaning of history and identity? This paper explores the process of national identity reinterpretation inscribed onto an urban residential and public greenspace that is simultaneously symbolic and vernacular. Through landscape interpretation and interviews with urban planners and officials, I conclude that place and regional identities-as expressed by planners and created by artists and gardeners- have shaped the design, interpretation and use of the landscape. The lakeside greenspace of Qu Jiang manifests selective interpretations of China’s dynastic past. In contrast to landscapes that glorify territorial conquest, Tang Dynasty grandeur is tied to cultural sophistication and cosmopolitan engagement with the world, especially Central Asia.

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