Exhibiting the Past Examines Exhibitionary Spaces in Postsocialist China

Denton-Exhibiting-the-PastIn Exhibiting the Past: Historical Memory and the Politics of Museums in Postsocialist China, Kirk Denton analyzes types of museums and exhibitionary spaces: from revolutionary history museums, military museums, and memorials to martyrs to museums dedicated to literature, ethnic minorities, and local history. He discusses red tourism—a state sponsored program developed in 2003 as a new form of patriotic education designed to make revolutionary history come alive—and urban planning exhibition halls, which project utopian visions of China’s future that are rooted in new conceptions of the past. Denton’s method is narratological in the sense that he analyzes the stories museums tell about the past and the political and ideological implications of those stories.

Focusing on “official” exhibitionary culture rather than alternative or counter memory, Denton reinserts the state back into the discussion of postsocialist culture because of its centrality to that culture and to show that state discourse in China is neither monolithic nor unchanging. The book considers the variety of ways state museums are responding to the dramatic social, technological, and cultural changes China has experienced over the past three decades.