Chinese Cultural Heritage and Ancient Tombs

Cultural heritage has become a crucial issue in Chinese political rhetoric since the beginning of the 1960s. Initially, the function of this discourse was essentially centered around the socialist and revolutionary ideology, but a paradigmatic shift has occurred since the late 1980s, where the culture of ethnic minorities was considered and used to promote narratives about harmony and unity of the Chinese society. This recent process led to the emergence of the protection of a specific category of buildings: “ancient tombs” 古墓. Among these burials, various historical or legendary figures gained the status of heroes of the nation through an institutionalized sanctification. Previously used as places for “popular religion” and often labeled as “illegal” 非法宗教 or “superstitious” 迷信 practices by the Chinese authorities, these places are being reclaimed through patrimonialization, resulting in many structural and ideological changes. This heritage requalification raises the question of reception on practitioners, who use those places for religious purposes and who strive to find new ways to manage alongside this political discourse.

Launched in October 2015, this doctoral research is a four-year project, which explores the way in which different agents appropriate and use heritage to compete in specific power scenarios. Indeed, heritage discourses and practices are approached as defining specific political arenas within which power relations are reconfigured. In order to analysis this mechanism, this research will combine, on the one hand, in a discourse analysis of the policies, regulations and decrees promulgated by the Chinese authorities on cultural heritage and religion. On the other hand, this research will focus on two ethnographies, one in Guangzhou (Guangdong Province) and the other in Quanzhou (Fujian Province), where three important Muslim tombs have been recognized and classified as national cultural heritage sites.  

These two analytical approaches will provide an analysis of the constructed heritage as being produced, identified and valued within specific logic and value system. Indeed, cultural heritage organize different fields of forces and dynamics, where political actors, stakeholders and as well as commoners are themselves engaged in numerous arenas and discourses to shape those sites, which are continually under negotiations. This issue will highlight the changes between state, society and religion.

This research is led by Prof. Samuel Guex in collaboration with Dr. Florence Graezer-Bideau (EPFL, Lausanne).

For more information please contact the project's main researcher Pascale Bugnon.



BUGNON Pascale, 2020, “Local Muslims in Baiqi (Fujian Province): Between Chinese and Muslim Culture”, Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue along the Ancient Silk Roads: Religious Influences on Cultural Heritage Sites, 26-29 septembre 2019, Hamadan (Iran), UNESCO (en cours de relecture)

BUGNON Pascale, 2019, « “Memory from Beyond the Grave”: Revitalization of Muslim Shrines in Southern China », in: The Publishing House of Zhejiang University (en cours de relecture).

BUGNON Pascale, 2019, « Négociations territoriales et identitaires au Xinjiang (Chine) : le cas de la patrimonialisation des tombeaux musulmans », in : Autrepart, 84, pp. 161-175.

BUGNON Pascale, 2018, « Reflecting on Muslim Heritage Monument: The Case of Sa’ad ibn Waqqas’ Mausoleum in Guangzhou », in : Historical Monuments & Modern Society, Conference Papers, Shanghai University, December 1-2.

BUGNON Pascale, 2018, « L’art d’accommoder les ancêtres de la nation. Analyse du patrimoine culturel musulman en Chine », Tsantsa, n°23 , pp.99-103.

BUGNON Pascale, 2017, « Reflecting on Heritage and Religion in Xinjiang : The Case of Muslim Shrines », in: History, Culture, and Society, VASILIEV Dimitri (ed.), Almaty, Dom “MIR”, pp. 75-93.

BUGNON Pascale, 2016, « L’art d’accommoder les ancêtres de la nation. Analyse du processus patrimonial en Chine à travers la catégorie des "tombes antiques" ». In Blog Scientifique de l’Institut Confucius, Université de Genève. 


Conference Presentations

« “Eux, ce ne sont pas de vrais Hui !“. Recompositions dialogiques du fait ethnique parmi les musulmans Hui de Chine. L’exemple de Quanzhou », séminaire du Laboratoire d’ethnologie et de sociologie comparative, Paris, Université Paris-Nanterre, 29.11.2019.  
“Politiques patrimoniales sur les Routes maritimes de la soie : mosquées et tombeaux musulmans en Chine”, Journée d’études de l’équipe projet « Dynamiques, interactions, interculturalités asiatiques », Bordeaux, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, 23.11.2019.

 “Local Muslims in Baiqi (Fujian Province): Between Chinese and Muslim Culture”, Intercultural and Interfaith Dialogue along the Ancient Silk Roads: Religious Influences on Cultural Heritage Sites, Hamadan (Iran), UNESCO, 26.09.2019.    
« Muslim Cultural Heritage in China and Religious Practices», Islam(s) in China: Reflecting on Muslim Diversity workshop, University of Geneva, 26-27.06.2019.
Islam(s) in China: Reflecting on Muslim DiversityOrganisation of an international workshop with the participation of CNRS, GSRL, University of Lausanne, Pomona College, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, Shaanxi Normal University, Nanjing University, EHESS, and Sun Yat-sen University. Institut Confucius, University of Geneva, 06.2019.
« “The Stones speak” but what do they say? Some reflections on Muslim Heritage in Quanzhou, Fujian (China)», Globalized Heritage in Asia: Regional Articulations, Silences, Contestations. Institut Confucius, University of Geneva, 24.05.2019.
« Reflecting on Muslim Heritage Monuments: The Case of Saiyd ibn Waqqas’ Mausoleum in Guangzhou », Historical Monuments and Modern Society, Shanghai University, China, 1-2.12.2018.
« Patrimoine en Asie : regards croisés », séminaire d’Études asiatiques, Prof. Christophe Gironde. Graduate Institute, 24.09.2018     
« “Memory from Beyond the Grave“: The Revitalization of Muslim Shrines in Southern China », Association of Critical Heritage Studies, 4th Biannual Conference, Hangzhou - China, 1-6.09.2018.  
« Diversité ethnique et religieuse en Chine », Summer School de langue chinoise, organisée par l’Institut Confucius et l’Université de Genève, Dr. Grâce Poizat-Xie - 20.07.2017
« Being a good Muslim“: Reflecting on Media and Religion in Xinjiang (China) », The International Association for Media and History, « Media and History: Crime, Violence and Justice », Paris, (Organisée par The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research and Analysis of the Media (CARISM), University Panthéon-Assas and the French Press Institute) - 10.07.2017-13.07.2017.
Co-organisation et participation à une table ronde avec Vincent Goossaert (EPHE) pour son ouvrage « Bureaucratie et Salut: Devenir un Dieu en Chine », professeur invité: Philippe Borgeaud (professeur honoraire en Histoire des religions à l’Unige) - 14.04.2017. 
« Reflecting on Heritage and Religion in Xinjiang : The Case of Muslim Shrines », 3e Conférence internationale    ouïghoure, Moscou (organisée par Georges Washington University, l’INALCO et l’Académie des Sciences de Moscou). 24.10.2016     
« La patrimonialisation des mausolées de saints musulmans au Xinjiang (Chine): entre “resacralisation“ nationale et persistance religieuse », séminaire d’Études asiatiques (IHEID), Prof. Christophe Gironde - 04.04.2016.
« La notion de “culture“ en anthropologie », séminaire “Chine contemporaine“ (UNIGE), Prof. Basile Zimmermann - 11.11.2015.
Tomb of Sa'ad Ibn Abi Waqqas, Guangzhou