SEAARC Symposium Abstract 21: “Heritage in Asian Cities Undergoing Rapid Transformation”

by Keynote speaker Prof. William Logan, Deakin University

In this paper Professor Logan comments on some of the theoretical, methodological and ethical challenges met during his 30 years of heritage work in Asia, mostly Southeast Asia, as researcher and teacher, UNESCO and ICOMOS consultant and government advisor. The paper focuses on cities undergoing dramatic political, economic and social changes and the role that heritage can play and, indeed, has played and continues to play in such situations. Two case studies are used, starting with Hanoi, the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, where national and international efforts to protect the city’s built heritage emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Twenty-five years later another Southeast Asian country—Myanmar (Burma)—is beginning to follow in Hanoi’s steps with perhaps even more rapid and fundamental transformation for the nation, its people and cities. There are some early indications that the changes taking place in Myanmar will parallel those faced in Vietnam when it, too, came out of a period of intense isolation and opened up to global investment, tourism and intellectual influences. One of the similarities seems to be the growing awareness and use of cultural heritage as a political, economic and social asset. In all states, capital cities are pivotal in the transformative processes and governments make use of heritage as part of nation-building strategies. While Yangon‘s status as capital city was lost with the establishment of Naypyidaw in November 2005, it is still the largest city in terms of population, trade, cultural activities and, for most Burmans, emotional attachment. Other important political and cultural differences between the two cities and their national contexts are noted and questions are asked about what Yangon might learn from the Vietnamese transformation experience. From this two-city comparative analysis the question arises whether there are useful generalisations about the production and use of heritage in rapidly changing cities that can be made for the Southeast Asian region, or at the larger scale the Asia-Pacific region or even globally. Do the experiences of Hanoi and Yangon reinforce the view that there are uniquely Asian ways of understanding and managing heritage? Other cities in which the author has worked, including China’s Lijiang and Japan’s Nara, will be drawn into his exploration of this issue.


Dr William Logan is Professor Emeritus at Deakin University, Melbourne, where he was founding director of the Cultural Heritage Center for Asia and the Pacific. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and has been President of Australia ICOMOS and Member of the Heritage Council of Victoria. His research focuses on World Heritage, heritage and human rights, heritage theory, and Asian heritage.

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