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Urban Asias – Essays on Futurity Past and Present

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65 6 Envisioning Future Pasts Heritage and Emergent Activism in Postcolonial Macau and Hong Kong Cecilia L. Chu Over the past decade, the protection of historic buildings and landscapes has been a major issue preoccupying states and civil societies in Asia. Governments, businesses and NGOs across the region have engaged with heritage conservation to achieve a multitude of purposes. The most notable is the promotion of tourism, where investment in heritage assets and turning them into cultural capital has become key to city branding and urban revitalization. At the same time, heritage activities have also proved to be effective in strengthening national pride and community empowerment. This is especially apparent in places that have gained recognition from international heritage organizations such as UNESCO. In many cities, the promotion of heritage to the outside world often goes in tandem with a surge of interest among citizens in revisiting their own histories and preserving local cultures. These phenomena point to an emergent “heritage paradigm” in Asia, where the shaping of local identities and economies are becoming increasingly connected to the accelerating globalization of heritage and cultures.1 There is by now a significant amount of critical writing that discusses heritage making as part and parcel of globalizing capitalism and its role in the ongoing commodification of the environment. 2 The emphasis on adding economic value to cultural assets suggests that conservation practice is becoming more aligned with a neoliberal model of business management, where the evaluation of heritage is increasingly carried out according to various sets of calculable impacts and cost-benefits. 3 At the same time, there is a gradual shift in the responsibility for heritage protection from the state to