Local narrative and outsider imagination in a Chinese landscape

Materiality, sense, and agenda

in Focaal

In recent years, the culturally distinctive Tunpu, a people group in southwestern China, have been reimagined by outsiders, including media, tourist companies, scholars, and especially Han Chinese from other regions in a search for perceived lost roots of Chineseness. Building upon a Tunpu narrative of migration to the region during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) period, these outsiders imagine Tunpu sociocultural alienness to be representative of ancient unchanged Ming-period character. Thus romanticized, the Tunpu become an unspoiled reservoir where an authentic national Chinese essence can be rediscovered. Through a complex process of embodied engagement with the Tunpu landscape and its objects, however, it is a class of non-Tunpu settlement that becomes celebrated by these outside actors as ideal representation of Tunpu settlement and architecture. This total process fundamentally transforms Tunpu time and place. Yet, it also interacts intricately with local knowledge, and leads to complex local responses and reappropriations of new historical elements.

Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology