Tax Cuts for the Rich – Budget Cuts for the Past

The budget targeting of historic preservation and heritage programs (of all kinds) is based on an assumption that serious public reflection on the past is just a disposable luxury.  Sure there is waste, elitism, racism, chauvinism, and class favoritism in some areas of the historic preservation movement.  And sure we need to be smart and effective how we allocate and spend public funds.

Yet among the most promising trends in recent years is the growing attention to community-based heritage activities, increasing inclusiveness in the decisions about who or what gets included in “official” commemoration, and the widening awareness that cultural identity– and even more important cultural co-existence– is absolutely essential, especially in hard times.

A bugetarily microscopic initiative like the Preserve America program has been branded by Republicans as wasteful (along with other useless things like Public Broadcasting and the voluntary US contributions to UN activities).  More troubling still is the fact that President Obama has apparently agreed about the disposability of heritage programs of all kinds.

So what do we have left of our national memories beyond the factless history-babble of Glenn Beck and the wildly mythic notions of the Tea Party Movement?  The official neglect of our collective memories has a tremendous cost.


History at no cost to the taxpayer. Does it look intelligent to you? Photo from Steve M. blog/Fox News


The cuts will deepen our national historical dementia by increasing our inability to distinguish between fact-based reflection and myth-based assertions.  No less damaging, the continuing privatization of heritage “attractions” as venues for “edu-tainment” will further trivialize the multimedia costume drama that we increasingly confuse with the past.

And don’t assume that this is just an American problem:  outsourcing of conservation responsibilities for historic districts and sites to retail, residential, and tourism developers is a worldwide phenomenon.  We have to carefully consider our priorities, examine the impacts of heritage on society, and be aware of the dangers of public amnesia.

From   January 14, 2011

Feds Threaten Major Cuts to Historic Preservation Grants

Posted By Ryan Holeywell

President Obama and the GOP don’t tend to agree on much these days. But they’ve found common ground in one unusual place: Both want to cut millions of dollars in historic preservation grants.

This week, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), a GOP deputy whip and member of the Republican Study Committee’s steering committee, introduced a bill that would cut $150 billion over five years through nearly 50 types of spending reductions across the board.

Some of the cuts are politically charged, like rescinding voluntary payments to the United Nations and eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Others are common-sense proposals taken from the president’s fiscal commission, such as requiring the sale of excess federal property and reducing federal travel costs.

A little-noticed proposal was a plan to eliminate two programs that fund historic preservation grants: Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America.

According to a House-issued breakdown of Brady’s proposal:

This amendment would eliminate funding for the Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America Program, as called for by the President who said both programs are duplicative and underperforming.

The Preserve America Grant Program was established in 2003 (as) a grant program within (the Department of the Interior) to provide ‘planning funding to support preservation efforts through heritage tourism, education, and historic preservation planning.’

The Save America’s Treasures Program in Department of Interior awards grants to preserve historically significant properties. This account is also heavily earmarked. $4.6 million is appropriated for Preserve in FY 2010 and $25 million is appropriated for Save. The Department of the Interior oversees multiple, overlapping historic preservation programs. Additionally, every federal agency is required to maintain a historic preservation program and must appoint a historic preservation officer and comply with the National Historic Preservation Act. In addition, there are numerous other federal grant programs and tax provisions aimed at historic preservation.

But Patrick J. Lally, director of congressional affairs for The National Trust for Historic Preservation, said Brady is downplaying the grants’ significance. Save America’s Treasures is the only federal grant dedicated exclusively to physical restoration of nationally significant sites, and it represents a significant portion of all federal funding for historic preservation.

The historic preservation fund, which is part of the Department of Interior, is usually funded at about $75 million to $78 million, and Save America’s Treasures usually makes up about $25 million to $30 million of that total. Eliminating it would be a huge blow to federal preservation efforts, Lally tells FedWatch. “It’s not like when lawmakers propose elimination of these funds they go to another account within the historic preservation fund,” Lally says. “They go away.”

Save America’s Treasures has provided funding to restore the Montgomery bus where Rosa Parks made her stand, the workshop where Thomas Edison created his inventions and the cottage to which President Lincoln retreated during hot Washington summers, among other projects. Since its 1998 launch, it has provided nearly $294 million to more than 1,100 preservation projects.

While Save America’s Treasures focuses on physical work, Preserve America grants provide funding for things like marketing, research and digitizing records — ancillary work that helps to promote “heritage tourism” to cultural and natural sites. For example, Honolulu was awarded $150,000 to develop programs to showcase its Chinatown, and Oxford, Miss. received $75,000 to fund exhibits about the life of Supreme Court Justice L.Q.C. Lamar in his historic home. Preserve America has provided more than $17 million in grants to more than 225 projects.

This time, the programs are being targeted by a House Republican. But a year ago, it was President Obama who proposed cutting the programs in his 2010-2011 budget. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the White House blog that they “lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear.”

That decision was especially unusual, given that the White House has previously been a supporter of the programs. In March 2009, Obama signed legislation that permanently authorized them, and in December of that year, First Lady Michelle Obama touted Save America’s Treasures as a way to “empower communities all over the country to rescue and restore this priceless heritage.”

Lally says he believes Obama’s proposal to cut the programs last year was an oversight. Congress ultimately preserved funding for the programs, largely due to the fact that Save America’s Treasures has a record of creating jobs (16,000 since its inception), Lally says. The White House’s budget will be released next month, and preservations are anxiously waiting to see whether it will against target the two programs, like Brady has already done. And given that deficit reduction has been the theme repeated ad nauseum by the new House Republican leadership, the future of the programs could be in jeopardy.

The fact that the two programs are fighting for their survival is especially ironic, considering the $29.6 allotted to them is a pittance of the overall federal budget. Nancy Schamu, executive director of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, tells FedWatch she doesn’t know why preservation funding is being targeted, especially since it’s basically “decimal dust” in the grand scheme of things.

“That’s something you’ll have to ask the bill drafters,” she says.

Will Repaving Be Permitted?

From Reuters December 22, 2010

Beatles’ Abbey Road crossing wins protected status

The most famous pedestrian crossing in popular music, outside Abbey Road Studios in north London, was designated a site of national importance by the British government on Wednesday.

Beatles fans from around the world flock to the road to pose for photographs imitating the picture on the “Abbey Road” album cover which shows Paul, John, George and Ringo strolling over the crossing.

“This London zebra crossing is no castle or cathedral but, thanks to the Beatles and a 10-minute photoshoot one August morning in 1969, it has just as strong a claim as any to be seen as part of our heritage,” said John Penrose, Minister for Tourism and Heritage in a statement.

Penrose declared the crossing a Grade II listed site on the advice of national preservation body English Heritage.

This means the crossing can be altered but only with the approval of the local authorities which would make a decision based on the site’s historic significance, function and condition.

Abbey Road Studios themselves were listed Grade II in February.

(Reporting by Olesya Dmitracova, editing by Paul Casciato)

Isolated, Destroyed, and Forgotten

Beirut 1991 - Gabriele Basilico


At a time when the archaeo-scholarly world maintains its righteous indignation over the plunder of archaeological sites and against art collectors’ selfish vices; at a time when nationalists and zealots pounce upon uncertain archaeological fragments and declare them to be national treasures, there is a kind of material heritage that is being intentionally destroyed and forgotten, almost entirely lost to memory.     

It is the heritage of un-nationalism, of movement and mixture, of serrendipitous and often smile-producing cultural cocktails, that ironically laid the foundation for the national movements that would ignore them and stand aside as they were destroyed.     

In the Mediterranean and the Middle East, where archaeology is an industrial undertaking and where it must serve national masters first (non-establishment political opinions being an obvious obstacle to the granting of excavation permits), ancient nationalities are as simplistically and perniciously concretized as are modern ones:  Philistines, Israelites, Moabites, Edomites, Egyptians– Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians, Egyptians, Iraqis).  But there was a time, not so long ago that the human landscape  in port and capital cities was as diverse as it was uniformly scattered from Casablanca to Baghdad.  Urban colonies of intellectuals and merchants and artists and thinkers created a cosmopolitan ferment from which the individual liberating national movements would spring.  Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Italians, Turks, Syrians, and the odd ethnic renegade all contributed to a culture whose visual design was decidedly modern, attitude uncompromisingly idealistic, and whose fondness was for debating and thinking– preferably in favorite cafes and livingrooms filled with thick tobacco smoke.     

Of course the appeal of powerful new ideas for the future (not old grudges from the past) and effortless cross-fertilization of gthe region’s urban cultures is today frowned upon and indeed actively opposed by religious fundamentalists and militarized ethnic states.  Little wonder that the archaeology of a cosmopolitan world is a target for destruction.  Now I don’t count the repair of architectural facades or restored, reused building remains to be the only challenge here.  It’s the intangible aspects that are most important:  Reaching beyond the familiar and keeping the cultural bridges in use.      

Read these two tragic stories of the modern Middle East and you’ll see what I mean:     

From The New York Times May 21, 2010:     

In Baghdad Ruins, Remains of a Cultural Bridge

The home of the renowned Arab novelist, poet, painter and translator Jabra Ibrahim Jabra was destroyed in an April 4 car bomb attack that also killed 17 people in Baghdad.  Photo:  Holly Pickett for The New York Times     


BAGHDAD — Report No. 25, dated April 4 and written by Col. Qais Hussein, was clinical, the anonymous survey of an explosion in a city where explosions are ordinary.     

Books and papers in Arabic and English litter the floor in the home.  Holly Pickett for The New York Times     

“Material damage: significant,” it declared of the car bomb that was detonated last month near the Egyptian Embassy, killing 17 people. “The burning of 10 cars + the burning of a house, which was in front of the embassy, with moderate damage to 10 surrounding houses.”     

Colonel Hussein’s report didn’t mention the hundreds of books, from plays of Chekhov to novels of the Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, stored in bags, boxes and a stairwell. It didn’t speak of the paintings there of Shaker Hassan, one of Iraq’s greatest, or the sculptures of his compatriot, Mohammed Ghani Hikmat. There was no note of the stone brought from an exile’s birthplace in Bethlehem that helped build the house as a cosmopolitan refuge bridging West and East.     

Nor did Colonel Hussein’s report mention that the home belonged to Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, a renowned Arab novelist, poet, painter, critic and translator who built it along the date palms and mulberry trees of Princesses’ Street nearly a half-century ago and lived there until his death in 1994.     

This is not a story about an outpouring of grief over its destruction. There were no commemorations, few tributes. As Fadhil Thamer, a critic, said, “People here have seen too much.”     

But in the whispers of friends and colleagues, who recalled Mr. Jabra’s listening to Bach as he wrote, the smoke of his pipe wafting through the room, the house represented something far greater that has been lost. To some of them, its destruction serves as an epitaph of sorts, the end of eras in Iraq and the Arab world and the eclipse, in war and strife, of the ideal he represented.     

For complete story, click here.     

*   *   *     

From the New York Times June 20, 2010:     

Alexandria Journal

A Draft of the Past Remains on Tap in Egypt


Like the city around it, the Cap d’Or’s better days are behind it. The bar was opened about 110 years ago by Greek residents.  Photo:  Scott Nelson for The New York Times    

By MICHAEL SLACKMAN                

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — These two women were veiled, true. They are religious, too, or at least as religious as their community expects them to be. But do not tell them they cannot stop into Sheik Ali’s bar and sit at a table and eat fried calamari and laugh over a glass of juice while surrounded by men drinking beer and whiskey.     

The women, Nelly Rafat, 52, and Magda el-Gindy, 52, are childhood friends who believe that while their religion prohibits alcohol, people are free to make their own choices. That is not the typical view here these days. But they sit, eat and enjoy, guilt-free amid the smoke-filled ambience of a hole-in-the-wall bar.

“If somebody else sitting here wants to drink, it’s none of my business,” Ms. Rafat said, as Ms. Gindy nodded in agreement.     

There is a lot of pressure out on the street, here and around Egypt, to at least appear pious. For women to wear a veil. For men to have a prayer bump, a dark callus in the middle of the forehead from bowing to the ground five times a day.     

And definitely, especially for women, to stay away from alcohol, and especially in a bar filled with men.     

“It’s not a Muslim tradition,” Muhammad Suleiman, 32, complained as he sat in a barbershop next door to the bar. “It should not be there. I don’t like it. It’s not our religion. I’d like it closed.”     

But that is not how everyone wants to live, not all the time, not even among people who agree to conform in appearance, like Ms. Rafat and Ms. Gindy.     

Especially not here, in Alexandria, a city built to look out to the world, not in on itself. The arc of history has been unkind to Alexandria, taking it on a long slow slide from the center of global learning in ancient times to a rundown, crowded metropolis on the Mediterranean.     

But no matter how the conservative social forces of modern Egypt press in, Alexandria cannot fully turn its back on a past so different from the present, when diversity and tolerance eclipsed conformity and tradition. The old Alexandria, the city built by Alexander the Great, set aside cemeteries in the 19th century for all its citizens, with separate ones designated for Muslims, Jews, Christians and “free thinkers.”     

Those days are gone, but are still embedded in the collective memory, and desires, of many people who live here, even people who are too young to remember when the tailors were French or Greek, the cooks Italian, and the Jews a large, vibrant part of the city.     

“We grew up in the hands of foreigners,” said Francis Zarif, 33. “That’s why I like it here. The feeling is the kindness of people in the past, the humanity.”     

For complete story, click here.     

And Speaking of Historic Tourist Attractions…

Lady Evelyn Herbert, arriving at Luxor Station on 23 November 1922, with her father Lord Carnarvon, and are met by the governor of Qena province and Howard Carter.


Isn’t the era of colonial rule and the birth of Egyptology and early western tourism part of Luxor’s heritage?     

Doesn’t the functioning of Luxor as a modern city– however poor and Muslim, rather than royal and ancient– deserve some respect?  Or at least more sensitive treatment than “planned” reshaping and population removal?    

If not, aren’t we heading toward something like Luxor Las Vegas— a fantastically antiseptic, pharaonic-themed, leisure-time venue? 


Is this kind of trivialized Ancient Egypt theme park on a grand scale what the modern Egyptian authorities and their consultants really have in mind with the “Comprehensive Luxor Development Plan“?   



*   *   *           

From Reuters UK:           

Bulldozers overhaul Luxor, city of pashas and pharaohs

Thu Apr 1, 2010 10:21pm BST

By Alexander Dziadosz           

LUXOR, Egypt (Reuters) – In the dusty streets behind the pasha’s grand villa, bulldozers and forklifts are tearing into the city where Agatha Christie found inspiration and Howard Carter unearthed Tutankhamun.           

Egypt has already cleared out Luxor’s old bazaar, demolished thousands of homes and dozens of Belle Epoque buildings in a push to transform the site of the ancient capital Thebes into a huge open-air museum.           

Officials say the project will preserve temples and draw more tourists, but the work has outraged archaeologists and architects who say it has gutted Luxor’s more recent heritage.           

“They basically want to tear the whole thing down,” said one foreigner who lives in Luxor part of the year, agreeing to speak only if his name was not used.           

“They want it to be all asphalt and strip malls and shopping centres. That’s their idea of modern and progressive.”           

He pointed to the destruction of the 19th-century house of French archaeologist Georges Legrain, demolished to make way for a plaza outside Karnak temple, and plans to knock down the 150-year-old Pasha Andraos villa on the Nile boardwalk.           

While known mostly for temples and tombs, Luxor’s Victorian-era buildings and dusty alleyways have drawn Egyptologists, statesmen and writers for decades.           

Samir Farag, a former Egyptian general who now heads the billion-dollar plan to reinvent Luxor, dismisses the criticism. Improvements to the city had reduced traffic and brought top-notch education and healthcare.           

“Just a few people, maybe I removed their houses or something like that, they want to criticize,” Farag said this week in his wainscotted office of British military style.           

“We just cleaned the houses, cleaned the streets. You’ll never find a clean city like Luxor now in Egypt”…           

For complete story, click here.         

*   *   *     

Ceremonial entrance to Luxor Casino, Las Vegas. Photo: Zeke Quezada



Spring Cleaning in the real Luxor begins…         

View of Luxor; workers dismantling early 20th c. house in the foreground. From al-Mahrusa. The excavation in the center (begun after the demolition of existing structures) is uncovering the continuation of the ceremonial Avenue of the Sphinxes that leads to the main entrance of the Karnak Temple. The modern mosque and remaining blocks of 19th-20th century houses and shops will spoil arriving visitors' impressive view all the way to Karnak from a new, enlarged cruiseboat dock slated to be built on the Nile Bank. The mosque and surrounding buildings are slated for demolition, with the resettlement of their current residents to planned suburbs.



For an on-the-spot report on the situation in December, click here.    

10 Endangered American Tourist Attractions Worth Saving

From the Society for Commercial Archaeology: 

Advocacy Committee Selections for the 2010 Falling by the Wayside: 10 Most Endangered Roadside Places List

From a huge concrete cowboy statue in Canyon, Texas; to California’s once common roadside orange stands; to a three-mile strip of forlorn motels in Lordsburg, New Mexico; to a Depression-era pullout in Garrison, Minnesota, many of America’s iconic roadside places are threatened. 

The Society for Commercial Archeology announces its first Falling by the Wayside, a list of the ten most endangered roadside places in the United States. Here is this year’s list, ranging from a single building to a 65-acre park:


Buckhorn Baths, Main Street, Mesa, Arizona

  Buckhorn Baths, a ten-acre oasis of palms, gardens and Spanish bungalows, sits along Mesa’s busy Main Street, a reminder of the town’s former life as a desert resort community. Closed for over a decade, future restoration and reuse of the property is growing less likely as the surrounding area redevelops for commercial use.  Read more…
Photo courtesy Emily Koller


California’s Roadside Orange Stands, US Highways 66 and 99, California

  Before it was the Inland Empire, it was the Orange Empire. Long stretches of California US Highway 66 once passed through picture postcard landscapes of citrus orchards. Dotted along the highway were fruit stands shaped like oversized oranges. Here tourists could pick up a bag of fruit and delight to a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. With the widening of highways and spread of suburban growth after WW II, the orchards, along with their stands, soon disappeared. Now only a few are left scattered across California.  Read more…


Clark County Rest Area, Interstate 64, Clark County, Kentucky

  Like a mushroom, the I-64 Clark County, Kentucky rest stop rises from a small knoll, surrounded by greenery. Designed in the early 1960s, it is wholly modern, with a folded plate roof and strong concrete and glass composition. Inside the circular space, a tile mosaic map of Kentucky stretches along a curving wall. Despite its architectural significance, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet may demolish this space-age rest stop.  Read more…
Photo courtesy Joanna Dowling


Pig Stand Coffee Shop No. 41, Calder Avenue, Beaumont, Texas

  A horseshoe shaped building, tinted purple and green, with an adjacent wavy carhop canopy, the Pig Stand Coffee Shop in Beaumont, Texas is a classic post-war drive-in. But for all of its neon and flying saucer design, the owner of the closed restaurant cannot find a new tenant, and has threatened demolition.Read more…
Photo courtesy Gregory Smith


Motel Drive (former US Highway 80), Lordsburg, New Mexico

  Motel Drive—a strangely desolate strip of highway devoid of operating motels—defines, for better or worse, Lordsburg, New Mexico. At one end an abandoned café announces “Trucker’s Breakfast, Only $3.50,” at the other is a boarded up nightclub, and in between three miles of eviscerated motels, some missing roofs and others with their pools full of garbage. Things were different before the interstate.Read more…
Photo courtesy John Murphey


Dinosaur World, Arkansas State Highway 187, Beaver, Arkansas

  The sign at the entry of Dinosaur World in northwest Arkansas announces the park is “CLOSED Until Further Notice.” And beyond, in a heavily wooded, 65-acre designed landscape, nearly 100 prehistoric replicas remain unvisited. Closed for five years, the future of the “largest dinosaur park in the world” is uncertain.Read more…
Photo courtesy Roadside America (


Garrison Concourse, US Highway 169, Garrison, Minnesota

  Sitting along a curve of US Highway 169, in the tiny town of Garrison, Minnesota is a pullout to a stone-edged rest area built by the CCC. Landscaped with mature trees and with a sweeping view across Mille Lacs Lake, and a more recent addition of a huge walleye sculpture, it is the town’s only tourist attraction. Years of deferred maintenance have put the structure in a precarious position; urgent advocacy is needed to stabilize and restore the historic wayside.Read more…
Photo courtesy MN Dept.of Transportation


Vale Rio Diner, Pennsylvania State Highway 23, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

  Fabricated in 1948, the Vale Rio Diner sat at the intersection of Nutt Road and Bridge Street for 60 years, serving up food to residents and workers at the Phoenix Iron Company and local textile mills. Like many diners, it was shiny and silver, but distinguished by an unusual pattern of stainless steel circles along its exterior; what diner experts call a “burnished disc pattern.” It was, as one Internet reviewer remarked, “a classic greasy spoon with horrible service.” But progress, in the way of a new Walgreens, pushed it from its coveted location to a storage lot a mile away, where its sits with an unknown future.Read more…
Photo courtesy Roadside Architecture (


Tex Randall, US Highway 60, Canyon, Texas

  Looking over US Highway 60, the big cowboy leans on his knee, staring at traffic with a bemused smile. Constructed in 1959, Tex Randall—47’ feet high and seven tons heavy—is a landmark in the Texas Panhandle. But exposure, lack of maintenance and an unknown future is threatening the roadside giant.Read more…
Photo courtesy Roadside America (


Teapot Dome Gas Station, Yakima Valley Highway, Zillah, Washington

  Constructed in 1922 to look like an actual teapot—with handle, spout and top—this gas station paid tribute to the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal. Today the iconic roadside structure sits vacant on the outskirts of Zillah, 15 miles southeast of Yakima.Read more…
Photo courtesy Roadside Architecture (

These places are all marked by threats which can include natural weathering, economic hardship, neglect, abandonment, inappropriate zoning, lack of maintenance and demolition. The list showcases the diversity of roadside places and highlights the issues and challenges facing the preservation of important roadside places. 

The Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) established the Falling by the Wayside program to raise awareness of the importance of roadside places throughout the United States. 

“Our hope is the list will bring attention to roadside commercial architecture—especially these threatened places,” says Nancy Sturm, co-president of the organization. Along with the attention, SCA will help property owners connect with local, state and federal preservation programs. 

Established in 1977, the SCA is the oldest national organization devoted to the buildings, artifacts, structures, signs, and symbols of the 20th-century commercial landscape. The SCA offers publications, conferences, and tours to help preserve, document, and celebrate the structures and architecture of the 20th century: diners, highways, gas stations, drive-in theaters, bus stations, tourist courts, neon signs, and more. 

“We’ve encouraged research and appreciation of highway architecture over the years. Now it’s the time to move toward advocacy, as more roadside places are threatened,” says Sturm. 

For more information

Antiques Roadshow Infection Alert

This semester, in our “Heritage Narratives” seminar, we have been looking at all the different ways that heritage stories are told:  Novels, Films, Documentaries, News Stories, School Essay Contests, Genealogies (and the genealogical TV shows and websites), guided tours, computer games, and social networking sites.  And we examine the strikingly similar tropes, symbols, and storylines that lay behind each of these genres.

But certainly the wackiest heritage narrative is the “Dream of Riches”– that ever-popular televised genre perfected by the Antiques Roadshow, in which the guest character discovers if his/her antique is treasure or trash.  All that blah, blah, blah about provenance, historical background, and craftsmanship is just a prelude to the electric moment when the monetary value of the object is revealed:

What became clear in our discussions (not only of Antiques Roadshow, but also art auctions, antiques flea markets, and E-bay) is that the repeated enactment of the “Dreams of Riches” scenario is really a public ritual of the industrial age:  in which the “use” or “sentimental” value of a piece of heritage is replaced by its market value.  And that market value, that monetary commodification, trumps everything.

It’s certainly something to think about not only on the individual level, but also at the level of communities and states.  How often has an old neglected part of the landscape be seen with new eyes as a potential tourist attraction?  Is the World Heritage List process just another form of the Antiques Roadshow?

It’s also a sign of a stage of globalization when markets and commodification begin to penetrate and disintegrate other exchange systems and human networks.  My thanks to exchange student Wen Hui for pointing out the following article:

From The Independent:

China’s antique lovers turn to TV for education


Thursday, 1 April 2010

China has in the past few years begun to buy back the antiques and art works that have for centuries been spread all over the world, and at the same time the country’s new generation of collectors is learning how to recognize exactly what is real and what is not.

And much of that newfound knowledge has come thanks to a series of television shows which lift the lid on the nation’s antique industry.

China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage claims there were 70 million antique collectors in the country in 2005 – but there are around 90 million now. And that increased interest has seen TV programmers acting fast.

China’s state-run station CCTV launched the country’s first show to deal directly with the antique industry – Artwork Investment – in 2001 but the country’s media has this week reported there are now 50 such programs screening across the nation.

The top-rated Xun Bao – or “Treasure Hunt” – airs weekly on CCTV-2 and claims 27 million viewers per episode.

That show features a team of experts searching for treasures in far-flung corners of China. They then explain how to identify what the piece is, when it was made – and what it might be worth.

Another top-rated show takes a different tact.

Tian Xia Shou Cang – or “World Collection” – often gets collectors to bring their antiques in to the studio for appraisal. If they are found to be fakes, down comes a hammer to smash the offending piece to smithereens.

And the show’s host, actor Wang Gang, makes no apologies. “This is done so the fakes never reappear on the market,” he told the China Daily newspaper.

The common theme among the shows’ producers is that they are helping protect Chinese culture. And Chinese collectors are doing the same….

For full article, click here.

Cold War Nostalgia: Fast Food, Souvenirs, and Soviet Kitsch

I am becoming particularly fascinated by the material heritage of the Cold War:  missile silos, fallout shelters, space toys, and suburbia.  But look what’s happening to the epicenter and heritage icon of the post-World War II world in divided Berlin.   

American student visitors with Cold War era re-enactor at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin


From the AFP 14 March:   

You are now entering Checkpoint ‘McCharlie’

By Simon Sturdee   

BERLIN — Checkpoint Charlie, a world-famous symbol of the Cold War that until 1989 was the front line between two nuclear-armed superpowers, is getting its own McDonalds. For many, this is the final straw.   

Where once US and Soviet tanks faced off as the whole world held its breath, there are now actors posing as soldiers in American or Soviet uniforms stamping tourists’ passports or posing in photos — for a fee.   

And next to the replica “You are now entering the American sector” sign, souvenir shops and stalls sell chunks of the Berlin Wall and pieces of Cold War kitsch like toy “Trabi” cars and Soviet military hats.   

Other hot items include T-shirts showing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s famous kiss with East German strongman Eric Honecker, a common sign of socialist solidarity that triggered ridicule in the West — and was later satirized in a mural on the Berlin Wall after it was breached in November 1989.   

Vernon Pike, a former US army colonel who used to command Checkpoint Charlie, was so incensed that he fired off an angry letter to the Berlin authorities in 2008, calling the transformation “an unacceptable spectacle”.   

This January an immense billboard advert by a clothes company went up featuring a young woman wearing the maker’s jeans — and flashing her top half to a security camera.   

There is already a Starbucks, and the “Golden Arches” logo will later this year adorn a building currently occupied by eateries including a sushi outlet, a kebab shop and a pizzeria, irreverently known as “Snackpoint Charlie”.   

“This is really a very strange place,” Simone Bernaert, 62, a retired and unimpressed university lecturer from Paris visiting Berlin, told AFP…   

For full article, click here.

Nostalgia for the Era of Chairman Mao


It’s interesting how the turn to Intangible Heritage makes collective memory so much more dynamic than the days when heritage was just historical buildings, museum collections, and archaeological sites.           

Take China, for example.           

With the economic and cultural transformation that has been going on since the 1990s, the Chinese government has “rediscovered” its ancient (read: pre-1949) heritage, successfully nominating 38 sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List and 29 elements of Intangible Heritage to the ICH Representative list.  And these are just the international acknowledgements of Chinese heritage.  Hundreds more sites and traditions have been commemorated within the Peoples’ Republic.           

All this represents a sudden and dramatic reversal from the revolutionary years, when the population was marshalled to focus on the ideology of Maoism, to dedicate themselves to the Revolution, and to scorn the ages of emperors, concubines, and luxurious tombs and palaces as a long era of class exploitation that had finally been overcome.           

It was probably inevitable that in this brave new world of market economy, consumer goods, a rising middle class, and personal status symbols that the old world of monotonously enforced class solidarity would have an appealing ring. And so the significance of Intangible Heritage has turned full circle, in content if not in the desire to long for a quality or character that has vanished from the contemporary scene.           

Discarded Mao bric-a-brac and memorabilia has long been among the most popular souvenirs for foreign visitors to China.  The seemingly unlimited supply of statuettes, ashtrays, teacups, serving trays and medallions were seemingly dumped on the market as a sign of their irrelevance in a New China that was already ideological light years away from the days of the Cultural Revolution, when these things were the compulsorily venerated votives of the national cult.           

Piled among the other flea market merchandise like mass-produced Feng Shui compasses, brass incense containers, and chipped porcelain, the images of Mao, Chou en-Lai, and the socialist-realist posters had an amusing air of kitsch about them to both tourist and seller alike.           

But strangely, with the passage of time, the old regimented society has– at least for some– begun to look a lot less kitschy.  Whether it is the nostalgia for the innocence of a regimented childhood by people now reaching the age of a suddenly insecure retirement, or whether it’s just a longing for a time of dedication for a cause higher than career advancement, profit, and loss– the era of Mao is back.           

Not as a real ideology, of course, but as Intangible Heritage, an idealized longing for something that has been lost.  That’s why the case of Comrade Lei Feng, reported below, is so intriguing.  In his reincarnation he is seen not as a compulsory civic model but as meaningful icon of Intangible Heritage that should be preserved even among the bustling, hustling, increasingly individualistic generations of today.           

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From the People’s Daily Online:           

Is learning from Lei Feng now outdated?

BEIJING, March 8 — Lei Feng (1940-1962) is a household icon in China who served the people wholeheartedly. Though a common PLA soldier, he helped countless people in his short 22-year life. Chairman Mao wrote him an inscription “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng” March 5, 1963, and established March 5 as “Lei Feng’s Day.”           

“Lei Feng Spirit” was formed in the 1960s and once had an extraordinarily broad impact. However, as a popular saying on the Internet goes, “post-1970s generation learns form Lei Feng, post-1980s revolts against Lei Feng, and post1990s forgets about Lei Feng.”    

As time goes by, “Lei Feng Spirit” is up a stump. Some young people even think that “learning from Lei Feng is now outdated,” so Shao Hong, deputy director of the CPPCC National Committee, proposed to apply for the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status for the “Lei Feng Spirit” at two sessions (namely the National People’s Congress and the Chinese Political Consultative Conference) last year.           

He believes that the spirit is a unique culture that the Chinese nation first created to put noble moral characters into practice. It is not only influential in China, but also in some foreign countries, which is deserving of better protection. “Lei Feng Spirit” is also advancing with the times, and the unique spirit belongs to China and the whole world…       

Uncle Lei Feng tells revolutionary stories, 1965