Responses to the economic exploitation of ICH

With the increasing attention and popularity of ICH lists and programmes, fake markets have emerged which sell ICH-related products, often by illegally using the Chinese ICH logo or even the UNESCO logo. These fake products have also entered tourist shops in Nanjing, creating competition not only for cultural practitioners but also for designated ICH inheritors. Right outside the government-sponsored area at Fuzi Temple where ICH inheritors run small shops, for instance, tourist shops sell a variety of goods - many of which are marketed as official ICH. Walking around Fuzi Temple, one can find almost all of the traditional handcrafts displayed at the Folk Culture Museum or ICH exhibition such as traditional lanterns, embroidery, wooden figures, and carved jade. Some of the products, such as small paper-cuts sold in a frame (see Figure 5.2), even use the official Chinese ICH logo. When approached, the shop owners claim that the product is handmade. Since each shop is selling the same products, all perfect in shape, it is evident that the products are mass-produced and are fake ICH products.' Thus, “regular” craftsmen might have a claim to use the ICH logo despite not being officially recognised, as their products are handmade.

The selling of fake handcrafts right next to the government-sponsored spaces for ICH inheritors undermines their efforts to sell traditionally made handcrafts.

Mass-produced paper-cuts with official ICH logo

Figure 5.2 Mass-produced paper-cuts with official ICH logo

Source: Haags, 2018

The growing market for fake ICH products makes it virtually impossible for cultural practitioners not supported by the government to get by in their trade. However, if these shops undermine official ICH safeguarding work, why has the Nanjing government not cracked down on this activity?

Although selling fake handcrafts is against the 1997 handcraft regulation mentioned above, there appears to be little government activity in Nanjing and or elsewhere to bring the selling of fake ICH products to a halt. While this situation can be explained by the weak capacities of legal enforcement in China (Cao 2014), traditional handcrafts are related to several governmental objectives at different scales, which at times contradict each other.

Whereas on the national scale, ICH safeguarding appears to be a “resource” for nation-building (see Chapter 1), across subnational scales, provincial and municipal governments have come to regard ICH practices as a resource to develop provincial and municipal economies. Jiangsu’s Culture Department, for instance, has called on local governments to promote ICH through cultural tourism, which by extension enables local governments to utilise ICH for the sake of economic development. To promote the cultural tourism industry through Jiangsu provincial governments Beautiful Jiangsu campaign (Maags & Holbig 2016: 77—78), local governments may rely on integrating ICH-related performances such as Kunqu opera into tourism packages or fostering the production and sale of ICH-related cultural products, such as traditional handcrafts, at tourism sites. FuziTemple provides an example of this strategy. In Nanjing municipality’s tourism policy of 2017, for instance, article 12 argues to “[strengthen the development, packaging and promotion of Nanjing brocade, gold foil, wood print carving, expressions of ICH as well as concrete regional tourism products to enhance the effect of tourism products and brands (JSR.D 2017). The municipal government is thus trying to use ICH practices as a means to create a tourism brand. Interestingly, the examples mentioned in the policy all belong to the category of traditional handcrafts, demonstrating their commercial value to tourism industry development.

In addition to the tourism industry, ICH practices may also be used as a resource in developing the cultural or creative industries - another concept which municipal governments started to appropriate from the international scale in the early 2000s (Keane 2013: 41-42). Since 2004, the Nanjing municipal government, for instance, has been developing the brand “Cultural Nanjing,” which is to “harness the economic potential of Nanjing’s cultural resources and transform its development path from heavy industries to ‘cultural creative industries’” (Liu 2015: 9), an objective which was included in the city’s Five-Year Plan of 2006. Among the ten key sectors to be cultivated for Nanjing’s cultural creative industry are “arts and crafts,” which include handcrafts such as stone carving and silk embroidery (Liu 2015: 9, 217). At the provincial scale,

Jiangsu’s Culture Department is similarly eager to develop cultural industries (Liu 2015: 9—10, 59—62). In this strategy, Nanjing plays a vital role as it is an essential part of the clusters of active cultural industries in theYangtse River Delta (Liu 2015: 8). As a result of these efforts to promote the tourism and cultural industries, Jiangsu’s cultural industry has assumed a leading national position. It has the third largest cultural industry (after Beijing and Shanghai), accounting for 5 per cent ofits provincial GDP ( 2016;MOC 2016). The tourism industry, in comparison, contributed 5.7 per cent of the provincial GDP in 2015 (CNTA 2016). Moreover, it has the fourth largest tourism industry in China, after Guangdong, Beijing, and Zhejiang (Xinhua 2014).

These political objectives across scales have a significant impact on local cultural practitioners. While praising the governments enhanced attention towards ICH safeguarding, one ICH inheritor, for instance, who has considerable standing in the community, has gone to the government to report these instances. He has also spoken to reporters from a TV station, making them aware of the detrimental effect of fake ICH products on the life of cultural practitioners such as himself. As he explains, this phenomenon was a result of the local government’s “too strong focus on development,” in other words, their over-commercialisation for the sake of economic growth. He argued that

The local government hopes to use some traditional arts, to make them big, to extend and to popularise them, give them this and that. Yet, they violate the rules of the market, so sometimes what is done is terrible.

(Interview March 22, 2015)

He told the media about the mass-produced ICH products and illegal conduct at Fuzi Temple, calling these salesmen swindlers (!Sf?).To him, their behaviour had severe consequences for the market as well as for cultural practitioners in Nanjing: Cheap and fake “handmade” products were flooding the Nanjing handcraft market exerting even higher price pressure. Yet, as he argued, the problem is that ICH-related products are often leisure products. A customer may buy one stone seal, paper-cut, or wooden figure, but it is not a good that is consumed daily. For this reason, price dumping had an even more significant impact on cultural practitioners - once a tourist or exhibition visitor had bought a “handcrafted” product, he or she did not need another one (Interview March 22,2015).

Despite his efforts and resistance, however, the situation in Nanjing has not changed. As elsewhere in China (Lin 2011; Jiang & Cova 2012) and across the globe (Stumpf, Chaudhry, & Perretta 2011; Li 2013), it is challenging to ban fake tourist products from tourist sites. Moreover, local governments often turn a blind eye since economic interests are often given higher priority than heritage safeguarding. With governments across scales emphasising the use of 1CH practices as a resource for economic development, it is difficult for local actors to resist commercialisation efforts. Yet even if governmental objectives differ, traditional handcrafters are too fragmented as a group to jointly push for governmental enforcement of handcraft policies. While some cultural practitioners are employed by state-owned enterprises and would thus not want to bite the hand that feeds them, others have benefited from privatisation efforts in the 1980s. These cultural practitioners, however, are running successful businesses, profiting from commercialisation, and do not have an incentive to go against tourist shops as they mainly sell luxury goods.

Along with growing privatisation and commercialisation, the adoption of the ICH Convention has thus brought about a second development: the transformation of ICH practices into a public good of the state which can be marketed for economic gain. As a result of governmental ICH programmes, cultural practitioners gained the official title ICH inheritor and are now able to make a living from their trade despite commercialisation. However, certain cultural practitioners are unable to compete in the market as they are neither closely tied to the state nor benefit from privatisation. They are the most vulnerable and most likely to give up their craft as a basis for generating their livelihood.These two processes, privatisation/commercial-isation and transformation of ICH into a public good, have thus created social fragmentation, which makes it unlikely for cultural practitioners to, for instance, petition the local government for an intervention in the fake ICH market.

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