Heritage, Origins and Otherness

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007 (Posted 11 years, 3 months ago)

I have recently been working on my research file for my option subject ‘cities of modernity’. My study area, at this time, is about ‘Beijing Siheyuan’ (a traditional residency in Beijing which has a history going back 800 years). I could not find much information in our college library so I have been researching on some Chinese websites. Or I could even translate them to English. I thought it would be a way of disseminating Chinese culture to ‘the other’ who had castles (equivalent to residency) in history.

I quite enjoy doing the research as it helps me to obtain my own culture. I was looking at all kinds of national treasures that Chinese have had in history such as paintings, calligraphies and Chinese porcelain and so on. It reminded me, one of the framing art lectures, which I had attended last term. The session was called ‘Heritage, Origins and Otherness’. We were asked to watch a documentary, which is called Stolen Goods National Treasures, directed by Tim Robinson in 2000. The video was about whether should the British museum return national treasures to their original countries.

Some people wonder why people should travel all over the world to experience different cultures and ways of life. One can get a taste of the Greek culture, or a chance to see the best Chinese calligraphy in the world by visiting the British museum. There are, however, others who take on another view, in which they argue that Western Europe should pay respect to countries that they have taken these treasures from by returning their lost treasures. Should this be the case then? It is always difficult to answer such controversial questions when people come from different culture and have different opinions. I have been thinking whether the returning of these treasures would be beneficial to countries where these treasures were originated, and the antiques themselves.

Returning priceless objects to their countries of origin is a way of expressing a diplomatic gesture of friendship. Many people from these countries of origin had been deeply upset when their treasures were taken away. These treasures were symbols of their culture. Therefore, their loss was not only objective, but also a subjective one as in a loss of spiritual values. Moreover, returning these treasures would help settle any long-term disputes created by the act of their displacement and consequently create a more peaceful and tranquil world.

Furthermore, many tourists, and people who are from these treasure’s original cultures believe that the only way to fully experience the cultural effects of these exhibits is to view them in their original cradle. Being in their origin enables these treasures to appear more charming. They would be better staged in their natural condition instead of being in a glass box in London. Culture is the spirit of a race. Without being immersed in its original culture, an antique loses the spirit it was intended to carry. It is all about the restoration of a culture’s spirit rather than the monetary value of these treasures.

However, some superintendents argue that such precious antiques should be preserved in well-built museums that facilitate good temperature conditions and security. Moreover, since Europeans tend to be more experienced in antique preservation, it could be better off for these treasures to remain in their present state. Moreover, risks of damages during displacement can then be avoided.

I am holding an impartial view at this controversial issue. In this civilized and developed era, European countries should return these priceless objects to their origins not only because people should respect each other’s culture but also human dignity as a whole.

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