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Negotiating Relations Between Museums and Intangible Cultural Heritage in China: New Museological Approaches to Old Traditions

  • School: School of Arts and Humanities
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2022 / 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


Within the Eurocentric context museums have long been the default repositories for material culture focusing on display, documentary, education and storage. What Bennett refers to as the exhibitory power of the museum continues to dominate and has been widely embraced in China, demonstrated by a rapid growth in museum construction. As the same time there is increasing interest in intangible cultural heritage exemplified by forms of craft knowledge and techniques, artistic practice, ritual and folk traditions and oral narratives. While sometimes depicted as divorced from material culture, intangible heritage is usually intimately linked to the production, utilisation and consumption of artefacts. Indeed, understanding the intangible can produce new contexts for and fresh insights into the world of tangible heritage. However, by definition, intangible heritage does not easily sit within the traditional institutional museum model.

As opposed to the expert-led, top-down functioning of the museum sector, the sources and guardians of intangible cultural heritage are located in the practices and oral narratives of local communities. Apart from the issues of presenting/representing the intangible within a museum context, relations with communities become paramount. This project seeks to understand the emerging relationships between museums, intangible cultural heritage and the communities responsible for practicing and transmitting this heritage. It focuses upon different models of co-production, the utilisation of new digital technologies and emerging modes of interpretation able to embrace the intangible dimension. There is scope to examine these relationships and how they are being negotiated from both the community perspective and from the institution of the museum.

While drawing upon cases from the UK and Europe, this project focuses upon Chinese museums and particularly the newly announced 20 national level museums and local level museums that are being developed within the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025) to showcase intangible cultural heritage. These can be juxtaposed with a number of well-established museums in Hangzhou that already link to intangible cultural heritage practices – the Silk Museum, Tea Museum and Traditional Medicine Museum. Understanding this initiative and examining it within a wider context of established museums and their interpretation of the intangible will shed new light on museum and community relations and the extent to which intangible heritage can be better absorbed in the museum sector.

External partners

Dr Yi Fu of the Department of the Cultural Heritage and Museology at Zhejiang University will work alongside the NTU supervisory team.  Dr Yi Fu has worked with numerous museums in Hangzhou and the Province of Zhejiang. She is an experienced doctoral supervisor and will contribute directly to the PhD project through her co-supervision. She will also assist in developing links with key museums in Hangzhou that will act as case sites. The PhD candidate will have access to support at Zhejiang University during their fieldwork periods as well as library resources.

Supervisory team

Katharina Massing
Mike Robinson

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, please visit our how to apply page.

How to apply

We are looking for motivated, engaged individuals to join our doctoral community. If you are interested in applying for one of the proposed Studentship projects, visit the "how to apply" page to access our application portal: please note, you will need to use the ‘NTU Doctoral Application 21/22’ form.

As you are applying for a project, your application should clearly outline which of the projects advertised you wish to apply in Summary of Proposed Research Topic. In Research Proposal and Personal Statement, please give up to 1,500 word statement of why you are interested in the project you are applying for and how you would engage with the research proposed. Think about the outline and research aims for the project and how you would approach them, as well as showing your understanding of the field and how the project will contribute to or challenge existing research. Your statement should focus on the framework of the project, to give the panel a clear idea of your understanding of the research project/topic. You will also need to include a bibliography or reference list for any work you cite.

Your skills, experience, motivation for pursuing doctoral study, and interest in the field should be included as part of your 500 word Previous Experience and Personal Statement.

Please note that only applications to the advertised projects will be accepted as part of this funding call; do not use your application to propose your own research project.

The application deadline is Friday 18 February 2022.

View the full list of projects available in the Cultural Heritage Research Peak Studentship Scheme.

Fees and funding

This project is fully-funded by the Cultural Heritage Research Peak Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Please see our application guide for prospective candidates. You can also find a step-by-step guide and make an application on our how to apply page.

Still need help?

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