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A Heritage of Ruins

A Heritage of Ruins: The Ancient Sites of Southeast Asia and Their Conservation

William Chapman
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    A Heritage of Ruins
    Book Description:

    The ancient ruins of Southeast Asia have long sparked curiosity and romance in the world’s imagination. They appear in accounts of nineteenth-century French explorers, as props for Indiana Jones’s adventures, and more recently as the scene of Lady Lara Croft’s fantastical battle with the forces of evil. They have been featured in National Geographic magazine and serve as backdrops for popular television travel and reality shows. Now William Chapman’s expansive new study explores the varied roles these monumental remains have played in the histories of Southeast Asia’s modern nations.

    Based on more than fifteen years of travel, research, and visits to hundreds of ancient sites, A Heritage of Ruins shows the close connection between “ruins conservation” and both colonialism and nation building. It also demonstrates the profound impact of European-derived ideas of historic and aesthetic significance on ancient ruins and how these continue to color the management and presentation of sites in Southeast Asia today. Angkor, Pagan (Bagan), Borobudur, and Ayutthaya lie at the center of this cultural and architectural tour, but less visited sites, including Laos’s stunning Vat Phu, the small temple platforms of Malaysia’s Lembah Bujang Valley, the candi of the Dieng Plateau in Java, and the ruins of Mingun in Burma and Wiang Kum Kam near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, are also discussed. All share a relative isolation from modern urban centers of population, sitting in park-like settings, serving as objects of tourism and as lynchpins for local and even national economies. Chapman argues that these sites also remain important to surrounding residents, both as a means of income and as continuing sources of spiritual meaning. He examines the complexities of heritage efforts in the context of present-day expectations by focusing on the roles of both outside and indigenous experts in conservation and management and on attempts by local populations to reclaim their patrimony and play a larger role in protection and interpretation.

    Tracing the history of interventions aimed at halting time’s decay, Chapman provides a chronicle of conservation efforts over a century and a half, highlighting the significant part foreign expertise has played in the region and the ways that national programs have, in recent years, begun to break from earlier models. The book ends with suggestions for how Southeast Asian managers and officials might best protect their incomparable heritage of art and architecture and how this legacy might be preserved for future generations.
    113 illus., 26 in color

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3793-8
    Subjects: Archaeology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. A Note on Diacritics, Language, and Usage
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) never visited Angkor Wat; nor did he see the temple-mountain of Borobudur or the vast expanse of ruins in the Plain of Pagan. But he clearly did so in his imagination. Led by the Monkey People to the proverbial “lost city in the jungle,” Kipling’s wild boy Mowgli, the hero ofThe Jungle Book,senses how “wonderful and splendid” was this “heap of ruins.”

    Some king had built it long ago on a little hill. You could still trace the stone causeways that led up to the ruined gates where the last splinters of wood hung...

  6. 1 A Southeast Asian Heritage: Background and Context
    (pp. 14-34)

    Modern Southeast Asia is an amalgamation of eleven countries located at the edge of Asia and incorporating both mainland and island states. The geographical term for the region comes from the South East Asia Command of World War II, a strategic grouping devised by the Allies to fight the Japanese. Before that, outsiders referred to the area variously as Further (or Farther) India, Cochin China, Annam (the latter two both now part of Vietnam), the East Indies (for modern Indonesia and parts of Malaysia) and Indo-Chine, alternatively Indochina, specifically for the French-controlled states. For the outside world, Burma and Thailand...

  7. 2 Indonesia: The Temple-Mountains of Prambanan and Borobudur
    (pp. 35-58)

    The Indonesian archipelago is home to some of the oldest remaining architectural monuments in Southeast Asia. Although several sites date to the late sixth or early seventh centuries, the largest temple and city ruins, particularly the famous Javanese sites of Prambanan and Borobudur, cluster chronologically around the late eighth to mid-ninth centuries CE. These monuments constitute one of several fruitful combinations of local practice and outside influence, a coalescence of creative imagination that scholars now believe gave rise to the present heritage of sites throughout the region.

    The assumption that the temples of Java were a direct source of inspiration...

  8. 3 Cambodia: Angkor, the City That Is a Temple
    (pp. 59-97)

    Cambodia lies at the center of conservation practice in Southeast Asia. Many would say it is one of the key sites for conservation work in the world. Long the domain of French historians and conservators, Cambodia has become over the past twenty years a veritable hive of international conservation activity—a site of experimentation, a place to consider new techniques in engineering, stone cleaning, and repair, and a setting in which to experiment in new ways of protecting the surrounding environment.

    Cambodia has also attracted the international attention of tourists, who ultimately are the “stock in trade” of conservation practice....

  9. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  10. 4 Vietnam and Laos: Ruins at Mỹ Sơn and Vat Phu
    (pp. 98-131)

    Vietnam and Laos are at the periphery of Cambodia but are equally central to the story of Southeast Asia’s ancient ruins. Vietnam has two kinds of visible remains associated with the long period of Indianization: those of the Mekong Delta region, associated with the Funan civilization—known in Vietnam as Óc Eo Culture—and the ancient sites of the Cham. Members of the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) excavated several Funan sites, including that at Óc Eo, in the 1940s. The Cham left stronger evidence of their past achievements, mostly in the south-central part of the country. Ascending to power between...

  11. 5 Thailand: Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and the Temples of the Khorat Plateau
    (pp. 132-161)

    Thailand in many ways had to create its own approach to conservation practice. Coached by French experts and observant of trends in other countries, Thai sovereigns and historians identified sites of importance, incorporated them within their country’s complex historical narrative, and then moved slowly to conserve them. Conserving abandoned historic sites became, paradoxically, an expression of modernity and progressivism. It helped establish a tentative parity with world powers that otherwise questioned Thailand’s claims to independence and buoyed up the traditional authority of its ruling Chakri dynasty.

    The Thai had a hesitant start in this enterprise and in many respects had...

  12. 6 Burma and Malaysia: The Plain of Pagan and Lembah Bujang
    (pp. 162-194)

    Burma presents a unique challenge to those interested in the preservation of the past. One issue is the unbroken significance of many of the country’s ancient temples and shrines. Successive rulers did indeed experience the destruction of earlier temples and cities, but they also reoccupied existing sites. Shifts in political power often meant the abandonment of older sites, sometimes soon after their construction. For Westerners, Burma was a land immersed in ritual. The Burmese, in turn, never understood the Western interest in things that were somehow only “old.” This tension between present meaning and past significance particularly colors the debate...

  13. 7 The Future of Southeast Asia's Ancient Sites
    (pp. 195-231)

    It can be difficult to recognize that even the prolonged effort of preserving an immense legacy such as that of Southeast Asia’s ancient ruins has a beginning, middle, and end. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a time of “discovery.” The mid-twentieth century became the period for the initial stabilization of the most notable monuments. The late twentieth century constituted a short epoch of international endeavors. At this point, most of Southeast Asia’s monuments are familiar to both experts and informed travelers. Some have been objects of restoration efforts; others remain true discovery sites. Much of the pioneering work...

  14. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  15. Conclusions
    (pp. 232-244)

    In practical terms, heritage does not place very high on the scale of world issues. Heritage sites—except perhaps in the recent case of Thailand and Cambodia—play little part in the ongoing politics of Southeast Asian states. And although ancient ruins and other kinds of heritage—whether places or foods, dance or other cultural activities—are important for what they generate in terms of tourism revenue, they are only a small part of the economies of Southeast Asian countries. In Thailand, for example, tourism counts for little more than 6 percent of GDP; cultural tourism focused on ruins is...

  16. Abbreviations
    (pp. 245-246)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 247-276)
  18. Glossary
    (pp. 277-284)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-322)
  20. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 323-326)
  21. Index
    (pp. 327-340)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 341-341)