Luce Chinese Studies Grants




Wudang Shan is better now than before the area was opened up. Better, I guess for everyone but commoners like us. Now we have no home to return to and this is certainly a horrible feeling. It is simply not fair that we commoners have no voice and authority. It's not an equitable situation and we commoners are not convinced with the government's efforts. The government doesn't work for the people but rather for themselves. I would support the government's plan for the development of Wudang Shan if it could likewise help the commoners - but it hasn't helped us thus far and so I don't support it.44

So relates a relocated resident incensed over her crippled hopes for inclusion in the beneficial transformations of the Wudang Shan region. Despite such criticisms, since its inclusion in the list of World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1994, Wudang Shan has made tremendous advancements in its efforts at protecting and preserving the ancient buildings and cultural relics scattered throughout its steep hills. Judging from statistics and the opinions of some of those interviewed, there has likewise been an overall rise in income and standard of living. However, there remains a number of uneasy pilgrims wary of the recent changes as well as a vocal minority of disaffected residents, worse off than before. It is for this reason that rather than contribute to the already rich body of literature concerning the preservation efforts in the region, in this research I sought instead to concentrate on what has thus far been far underrepresented in the literature: namely, local experience and perceptions.

Creating, dictating and implementing policy for the development of regions like Wudang Shan remains a tricky task. The process of analyzing this matrix of interconnected relations at the international, national and local level and then constructing appropriate policy is a challenging project indeed, but one that needs to be approached with circumspection and patient analysis before decisions can be enacted. The interests of so many players render a perfect solution well beyond the means of international organizations like UNESCO or national government bureaus.

Yet in Wudang Shan, corruption and the pejorative representation of local peoples born of engrained biases against them have kept these local voices out of the discourse on development of the region. UNESCO has neither taken appropriate measures to see that the implementation of its social polices have been adequately realized nor put enough pressure on local government to see that they take the lead in combating corruption and the formulation of detrimental policies. Though there can never be a totalistic solution to the delicate compromise between these players around the world, the debate has thus far eschewed what should be the most prominent voice: the local view.

UNESCO claims, "special attention is paid to local community participation to galvanize the concept of sustainable development and heritage preservation",45 but in reality this has not been the case. Chen Liqin laments: "I want better living conditions for today. Right now we have so many people crowded into the old school living in the classrooms. More than twenty to a room and no showers - They're very bad conditions".46 Such is the result of a development discourse neglecting the expressions of effects on all people involved - people like Liang. The residents interviewed unanimously supported efforts to protect the environment and cultural relics of Wudang Shan but where conflict arises, their needs have so far yet to be adequately addressed. Chen Tao reminds us that, "All we really need is a stable income source to assure us food, clothing and shelter".47 But there is hope, and by not only including but prioritizing local people in the polyphonous discourse on development, fruitful implementation can be actualized while 'interventionist' strategies can be transformed from colonizing dictates into avenues of empowerment for all.

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