Philipp Demgenski, "Seeking a Future for the Past: Space, Power, and Heritage in a Chinese City" (U Michigan Press, 2024)


In Seeking a Future for the Past: Space, Power, and Heritage in a Chinese City (U Michigan Press, 2024), Philipp Demgenski examines the complexities and changing sociopolitical dynamics of urban renewal in contemporary China. Drawing on ten years of ethnographic fieldwork in the northeastern Chinese city of Qingdao, the book tells the story of the slow, fragmented, and contentious transformation of Dabaodao - an area in the city’s former colonial center - from a place of common homes occupied by the urban poor into a showcase of architectural heritage and site for tourism and consumption. 

The ethnography provides a nuanced account of the diverse experiences and views of a range of groups involved in shaping, and being shaped, by the urban renewal process - local residents, migrant workers, preservationists, planners, and government officials - foregrounding the voices and experiences of marginal groups, such as migrants in the city. Unpacking structural reasons for urban developmental impasses, it paints a nuanced local picture of urban governance and political practice in contemporary urban China. The book also weighs the positives and negatives of heritage preservation and scrutinizes the meanings and effects of “preservation” on diverse social actors. By zeroing in on the seemingly contradictory yet coexisting processes of urban stagnation and urban destruction, Seeking a Future for the Past reveals the multifaceted challenges that China faces in reforming its urbanization practices and, ultimately, in managing its urban future.

Philipp Demgenski is Assistant Professor in Anthropology within the Department of Sociology at Zhejiang University, China, and a Senior Research Fellow at Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Germany. His research interests include intangible cultural heritage, the politics of space and place, memory, and urban redevelopment.

Yadong Li is a PhD student in anthropology at Tulane University. His research interests lie at the intersection of the anthropology of state, the anthropology of time, hope studies, and post-structuralist philosophy. More details about his scholarship and research interests can be found here.


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Yadong Li

Yadong Li is a PhD student in socio-cultural anthropology at the Tulane University of Louisiana. He is interested in the anthropology of time, hope studies, and post-structuralist philosophy. Please feel free to contact him by email: /
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