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of Memory

Photo by Evgeny Nelmin on Unsplash


Emerging China is telling a “China story” not only to its own citizens, but also to the rest of the world: its origins; where it will go; how it will rise and what world order it wants to help shaping. The political references to China’s past play a central role for this process. However, it is not only official rhetoric that makes diverse references to history and heritage, but also civil society actors at provincial and municipal levels. The immediate connection of new cultural heritage sites and the modern Silk Road initiative opens up new analytical perspectives on China’s pursuit of global recognition and normative influence, and on the question how Chinese actors use conservation, archeology, and history to promote mutual understanding with other societies and cultures and to reinterpret tensions and conflicts. The project focuses on “infrastructures of memory”, which are understood as a heterogenous, temporal arena to construct collective identities. What kind of (national) identity is constructed and negotiated by different memory infrastructures? To which narrative frame does China “heritage diplomacy” (Winter) and its “historical statecraft” give rise to? Which effects do Chinese memory infrastructures have on international cultural hierarchies as well as on the current transformation of world-historical narratives and related identity-construction processes? To what extent do the national and international audiences accept a China story that refers to the historicity of cultural heritage?

Prof. Dr. Maximilian Mayer

Frederik Schmitz, M.A



Mayer - 2018 - China’s historical statecraft and the return of hi.jpgMayer, M. (2018). China’s historical statecraft and the return of history. International Affairs, 94(6), 1217–1235.

Chinese leaders are increasingly mobilizing historical narratives as part of a broader trend that challenges Francis Fukuyama's thesis of the end of history. China's monumental history as an ancient civilization is used to revise the communist party's ideology and to buttress foreign policy ambitions and infrastructural investments—including the ‘belt and road initiative’ and territorial claims in the South China Sea. This more assertive approach to China's immediate neighbourhood resonates with the official reiteration of imperial tropes and concepts of Confucian philosophy, yet assertions that Beijing wants to reanimate the tribute system remain contested. While using historical narratives to legitimize foreign policy is not new, we are witnessing an unprecedented ‘return of history’ as a global social force. By revisiting Fukuyama's claims, I develop the notion of ‘historical statecraft’ and apply it to China's ‘belt and road initiative’... more


27. May 2021 | Infrastructures of Memory: Heritages and Diversity in Modern China 

Online workshop

This workshop aims to discuss how different heritage related actors in contemporary China construct and employ historical, architectural and cultural resources as memory infrastructures to engage in identity construction in the context of modern Chinese society and in Chinas transnational cultural and political interactions.


  • Sophie Elpers (Meertens Institute, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences): Intangible cultural heritage, museums and the challenge of diversity
  • Puay-peng Ho (National University of Singapore/UNESCO Chair on Architectural Heritage): Walking a Tightrope: Rethinking cultural urban landscape in China
  • Andrew Law and Qianqian Qin (Newcastle University): Cultural nationalism, ontological (in)security and reflective nostalgia? The Hanfu movement and young adults in China
  • Christina Maags Christina, (University of Sheffield): State Institutions as Building Blocks of Chinese Cultural Memory–The Case of Intangible Heritage
  • Sandra Gilgan (University of Bonn): The Role of History and Memory in the Popular Claim on Confucian Educational Tradition
  • Maximilian Mayer (University of Bonn): Infrastructures of memory: making memories durable – the case of Yushu after the 2010 earthquake
  • Ryoko Nakano (Kanazawa University): The Silk Roads as global memory infrastructures: Japan and South Korea’s views on China’s initiatives
  • David O’Brien (Ruhr University Bochum) and Melissa Shani Brown (Ruhr University Bochum): ‘Making the Past Serve the Present’: Tourism, Sinicisation, and BRI’s ‘People to People Bonds’ in Xinjiang (XUAR), China
  • Hendrik W. Ohnesorge (University of Bonn): Soft Power, Historic Statecraft and Memory in Great Power Politics


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