Many people are driven to pursue further study by passion. Master of Museum and Heritage Studies alumna Jiani Li was motivated by, of all things, boredom.
She had majored in Archaeology in her undergraduate degree at her hometown university in China, but says that she found her museum courses to be as boring as her provincial museum. The museum was so boring that it was getting fewer and fewer visitors.
And so, Jiani explains, “when I was thinking about my graduate study, I chose museum and heritage studies – because I really want to know how I can create interesting exhibitions.”
The concept of heritage is a relatively recent one in China – insofar as how the western world understands it. For starters, western society has tended to privilege tangible heritage – such as Stonehenge, the Colosseum, the Great Barrier Reef – over intangible cultural heritage – such as music, stories and knowledge.
On the other hand, Jiani says, the Chinese people have tended to pay more attention to the “spirit, culture, knowledge and techniques passed down through our history.”
One indicator of that are the building materials that have historically been used in China: earth, bamboo, and wood. Materials that are easily damaged and which don't stand the test of time.
“Therefore, our ancestors prefer to pass down building technologies instead of keeping the building itself,” Jiani says.
More recently, China has placed greater importance on the conservation and restoration of material heritage. In addition to funding such projects in-country, Jiani adds that China actively participates in international cultural heritage protection projects, such as the restoration project of Ta Keo temple at Angkor Wat.
With this in mind, Jiani was interested in understanding how non-Chinese scholars think about heritage; not only their views on how to protect and manage it, but how they think about it and treat different heritage.
Her interest led her to ANU. She was attracted to the national university by its top Australian ranking in Anthropology, and because she felt that Canberra was a peaceful place to study.
Once she arrived, Jiani found studying both a happy and painful experience.
“At the beginning it was hard for me to understand readings and sometimes I needed to read them 2 to 3 times to understand them,” she says.
“Thankfully, my professors and classmates were very kind and happy to help me and share their ideas about the material.”
Jiani loved the libraries at ANU, and outside of her studies, enjoyed jogging and going to the ANU cafes and bar and talking with different people.
“ANU made me feel happy, at peace, and I enjoyed every day of my life there,” she says.
After returning to China in July 2017, Jiani landed a job with the cultural heritage research team in the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage (CACH). She undertook research as part of the archaeological heritage interpretation, conservation and exhibition program, and helped colleagues working on multimedia propaganda.
In April 2018, she was “loaned out” to the National Cultural Heritage Administration (NCHA), which CACH sits under. She currently works there as a Foreign Affairs Officer by day, and continues her research in her off-hours.
“I mainly [deal with] cooperation between China and other countries in the cultural heritage and archaeology program area,” she says.
She's also helping to invite and communicate with foreign experts in relation to a symposium in October, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian and the 65th anniversary of the Zhoukoudian Museum. Peking Man Site is where remains of Homo erectus pekinensis and Homo sapiens sapiens were uncovered, along with other significant archaeological discoveries.
“Without ANU, I would not have been able to find such a good job,” Jiani says. “CACH is the top level in cultural heritage study [in China], and NACH is [the Chinese Government organisation] responsible for the whole country's cultural heritage.”
She adds: “At ANU, I was trained to observe, recognise and understand the world and people's behaviour.”
“Working for CACH and NCHA has made me understand more deeply what I learned at ANU.
“Without what I learned at ANU, this experience would've amounted to nothing.”