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Special Feature

A Difficult Integration of Authenticity and Intangible Cultural Heritage? The Case of Yunnan, China

Junjie Su
p. 29-39


Authenticity is a concept that is not seen in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) discourse but is emphasised in Chinese ICH official discourse. An analysis of the origins, discourses, and practices of the notion of authenticity of ICH, as well as the difficulties generated from this concept, illustrates the creation of ICH in China, which mediates between local and international ideologies. This paper adopts historical and critical heritage discourse perspectives to examine cases in Yunnan Province, China, including the understandings, discourses, and practices of the idea of “authenticity” and related original ecology in regard to experts, officials, and ICH practitioners. Through the lens of authenticity, the paper illustrates the history of the complicated relationships between authenticity and ICH in the last 20 years, revealing the dynamism and difficulties in the integration of authenticity and ICH as an official discourse, and the possibilities and restrictions of reconceptualising authenticity in the current contexts of integrating culture and tourism, as well as the reform of cultural governance, in contemporary China.

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Editor's notes

Manuscript received on 24 February 2021. Published on 9 August 2021.


Full text document will be published online on September 2022.


Practices of authenticity by experts
Practices of authenticity by officials
Perceptions of authenticity by ICH practitioners

First lines


China has been very active in the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage (ICH hereafter) since the ratification of UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of ICH (ICHC) in 2004. Internationally, China tops UNESCO’s Representative ICH List with 32 elements. After the ratification of the ICHC, China quickly advanced its domestic ICH campaign, which led in 2011 to the launch of the Law on Intangible Cultural Heritage of the People’s Republic of China (Standing Committee of National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China - SCNPC 2011).

It is interesting to note that, during the localisation in China of UNESCO’s ICH discourse, the concept of authenticity has been gradually emphasised in the Chinese official ICH discourse. Authenticity was stated firstly in the Opinions on Strengthening the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage of China (General Office of the State Council 2005), and it has been emphasised as a key concept in the Law on Intangible Cult...

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Bibliographical reference

Junjie Su, « A Difficult Integration of Authenticity and Intangible Cultural Heritage? The Case of Yunnan, China », China Perspectives, 2021/3 | 2021, 29-39.

Electronic reference

Junjie Su, « A Difficult Integration of Authenticity and Intangible Cultural Heritage? The Case of Yunnan, China », China Perspectives [Online], 2021/3 | 2021, Online since 01 September 2022, connection on 20 January 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Junjie Su

Dr Junjie Su is Director of the Yunnan Provincial Research Base of Intangible Cultural Heritage and Associate Professor at the School of Ethnology and Sociology in Yunnan University. His research interests concern critical heritage studies, heritage tourism, protection and uses of cultural heritage, museum and arts management, cultural industries, and social work. School of Ethnology and Sociology, Yunnan University, No. 2 North Cuihu Road, Kunming, Yunnan 650091, China (

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