Global-local Relationships in World Heritage: Mount Taishan, China
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The concept of heritage is full of conflicts and contestations. The UNESCO’s intervention in the form of the “World Heritage Convention” enriches the meaning of heritage but may exacerbate the intrinsic tensions in heritage while expanding its economic significance through tourism. Heritage tourism is an effective means to realize the economic potential of heritage. This is a major reason why developing countries like China apply for UNESCO world heritage designation. However, some stakeholders take more benefits while others bear more costs in the interplay of heritage conservation and tourism. Achievement of a balance among resource conservation, tourism development, and local community well-being is a pressing challenge for planning and management of World Heritage Sites. This research examines the implications of World Heritage designation for conservation of the world heritage and, particularly, for the lives of local people living in and around the site. It is argued that such people often bear the most costs while often being ignored or disadvantaged in terms of benefits. Sustainability of local life is interdependent with sustainability of heritage conservation and tourism. A key goal of heritage planning should be to mitigate heritage contestation and dissonance, and to sustain local people’s livelihoods and enhance their life quality. This would be conducive to the overall sustainability of the heritage resource. Using Mount Taishan, a UNESCO world heritage site in China, as a case study, employing a plan and implementation evaluation approach, and taking a community perspective, this thesis evaluates the plans for the world heritage site and their implementation from three perspectives: resource conservation, visitor experience and local well-being (particularly local involvement in, and benefit from tourism). A mixture of quantitative and qualitative research methods is used and the transferability and applicability of western heritage planning and evaluation methods to China is examined implicitly. It is shown that much attention has been placed on resource conservation on this world heritage site, although the desire for economic returns underpins the conservation. The resource integrity of the heritage mountain has been marred by the construction of several cable cars for tourism. The number of visitors keeps growing. However, visitor experiences are generally positive except for crowding during the high seasons and length of stay has decreased. Local involvement in decision making relating to heritage operations is low. Local involvement in the provision of tourism services is high but uneven, and usually under the organization of the village committees. Faced with land loss, displacement, and livelihood change, villagers are very positive toward and very much dependent on tourism as the major or sole means of making a living. The power-relations that are reflected in the heritage nexus are a key issue. As the most powerful stakeholder, the local government’s intervention produces high efficiency and also inequity. Short-term goals are sought, reflecting the short tenure of officials. Within this context, western heritage planning ideas, including the advocacy of community involvement and public participation, have met many challenges in China, although this could change with socio-political developments in China.