The purpose of this paper is to discuss some of the main UNESCO sites in China. The cases under study offer some insight into the complexity of the management of Chinese cultural organizations, as well as the problem of the presentation of China's heritage in a new global context.
The paper is based on field research in 2008/2009 on the Chinese sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List (WHL). While details of the research will be provided in a later stage, some interesting findings and patterns are emerging.
Building on the evidence of several case studies, a preliminary evaluation of the costs, the benefits and the negative outcomes of the listing process is presented in the second section. In a nutshell, the process appears to be increasingly expensive for local government and, despite the expectations for successful inscription onto the WHL, results in terms of increased tourism income are not always guaranteed. On the one hand, being listed raises the awareness of heritage protection among the general public but, on the other, there are also risks connected to tourism overexploitation.
From a methodological point of view the study points out the scarce quality of basic data regarding visitors and financial issues among Chinese World Heritage sites. This is particularly critical for sustainable development if it is considered that a World Heritage site should be accountable to the international audience. In the final section of the paper some open questions concerning sites' management models are presented.
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