Difficult histories: changing presentations of the Liao in regional museums in the People's Republic of China over three decades

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Museums have long been thought to be vital contributors to nation building and the creation of identity narratives, yet the stories they tell must be negotiated within the constraints set by differing levels of interpretive freedom. This paper examines how museum exhibitions changed between 1982 and 2009 at the museums serving the five capital sites of the non-Chinese Kitan-Liao dynasty (907–1125). While some of these places, such as Beijing, have now become unquestionably central to the national narrative, others are deep in rural areas and are peripheral even to provincial concerns. Exhibitions at these five museums vary considerably in the degree to which they either consider the Kitan and the Liao dynasty in their own right or attempt to place them within a national narrative. The wide range of approaches reflects the differing present-day concerns of the museums’ host locations, as well as the new multivocality that is developing in—among other places—China's regional cultural institutions.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1519-1565
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number6
Early online date25 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014