Heritage is defined as “a contemporary commodity purposefully created to satisfy contemporary consumption” (Ashworth, 1994, p. 16). Historical monuments become heritage products through a process of commodification, and heritage products influence place identities via politicization. Heritage tourism, a form of economic use of heritage is an arena operationalized by both commodification and politicization. The triangular relationship between heritage, identity, and tourism is summarized by Ashworth (1995): (1) Heritage contributes toward political identity (politicization); (2) heritage supports tourism (commodification); and (3) heritage tourism contributes toward the individual’s appreciation of places and political identification. Similar to the propositions of Ashworth (1994), Smith (2006) contends that heritage symbolically represents identity through a cultural process that encompasses experience, memory, and remembrance.
The plural use of heritage depends on the socio-political and economic context of the respective society. Since “the past, transformed into heritage, is a ubiquitous resource with many contemporary cultural, economic and political functions” (Ashworth, Graham, ; Tunbridge, 2007, p. 1), it is necessary to deconstruct how heritage is transformed for contemporary use within particular cultural, economic, and political contexts. For example, Hitchcock, King, and
Aktuelle Südostasienforschung ? Current Research on Southeast Asia
www.seas.at doi 10.14764/10.ASEAS-2015.2-5
188 Huong T. Bui ; Timothy J. Lee ? ASEAS 8(2)
Parnwell (2009) have set their conceptualizations and representations of heritage
in Southeast Asia against relationships between culture, nature, tourism, and identity.
Earlier work by Peleggi (2002) analyzing The Politics of Ruins and the Business of
Nostalgia revealed that selected historical sites enjoy special visibility as symbols of
Thai identity within the larger construct of the national heritage, at the same time as
they are being commodified and consumed as tourist attractions. Thailand, however,
never having been a colony, is a different case to other Southeast Asian countries
that are former colonies. In the course of gaining independence, the political elites
of Southeast Asian countries constructed narratives of their origins that have often
been concerned with nation-building and creating distance from their former colonial
masters (Hitchcock, King, ; Parnwell, 2009); a process in which heritage plays
an important part.
Moreover, recent criticism of the Eurocentric biases of the global heritage movement
recognizes the need for the development of heritage frameworks that are sensitive
to the complexities and socio-cultural specificities of the Asian region (Long,
2012; Winter, 2009; Winter ; Daly, 2012). Rapid growth of travel for leisure and recreation
within Asia today is presenting new challenges for policy makers regarding
the management and presentation of heritage sites. These trends stimulate the discussion
on heritage politics in the new era (Timothy ; Boyd, 2006) and particularly
within the political systems of Asian communist states (Long, 2012).
Previous studies of heritage in communist states have discussed the utilization
of heritage for tourism (Henderson, 2000, 2007) as well as the hybridity of heritage
that accommodates contemporary strategies of commemoration and tourism in the
context of Vietnam (Bui, Joliffe, ; Nguyen, 2011; Long, 2012). However, none of the
work concerning heritage tourism in Vietnam has addressed the complicated nature
of the interrelationship between heritage, identity, and tourism, leaving a large gap
in scholarly research of Southeast Asian studies. This study contributes to existing
literature by investigating the process of commodification and politicization of heritage
within the context of contemporary Vietnam. Using a case study of the UNESCO
World Heritage Site (WHS), the Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang
Long – Hanoi, the analysis drills into the issue of heritage politics bounded up in the
process of political and ideological legitimation and economic development.


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