Toward A Paradigmatic Approach Of Meaning-Making: Memorial Art and Architecture in Mao Zedong's Birthplace

Author: ORCID icon
Dong, Zhe, Constructed Environment - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Li, Shiqiao, AR-Arch Dept, University of Virginia
Last, Nana, AR-Arch Dept, University of Virginia
Johnston, Andrew, AR-Arch History Dept, University of Virginia
Shepherd, John, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

In the summer of 2020, demonstrators in the United States are again calling to dismantle Confederate monuments along with statues of Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. Across the Pacific Ocean, monuments are raising widespread schisms in China, too. Many young urban residents imagine Shaoshan, the Communist leader Mao Zedong’s birthplace, as an obsolete, propagandistic site. Yet, the place attracts millions of commemorators each year, and stands as a highland where various social strata attempt to capture and curate the nation’s memory. My dissertation offers the first comprehensive study of Shaoshan’s memorial art and architecture from the 1950s till today. The project is both historical and theoretical. On the one hand, building on first-hand archival materials and data collected from a three-month participant observation, I examine: 1) the history of heritage preservation and memorial constructions in Shaoshan from the 1950s to the 2000s; 2) the culture of memorial practices among the local commemorating community; and 3) the architectural design of three memorial museums that articulated Shaoshan’s significance in different historical contexts. On the other hand, my research is led by the overarching question of how commemorators understand Shaoshan’s built-environments to be memorable. I argue that Shaoshan is part of the far-reaching memorial tradition in Chinese culture, and it indicates a distinct approach toward meaning-making which I call paradigmatic: in local memorial practices, commemorators possess a processual perspective on history, and understand historical figures and events as typological examples that illuminate, in their lives, the constant potentials of practice and knowledge production. I suggest that, from this paradigmatic perspective, scholars could not only better comprehend the relationship between significance and built-environments, but also explore new methods of meaning-making in the contemporary era when communication technologies develop at an unprecedented speed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Monument, Mao Zedong, Paradigm
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School of Architecture, University of Virginia
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