Soundscape as an Outstanding Universal Value: An Introduction with Case Studies of Chinese World Cultural Heritage Sites | Jun Zheng

Soundscape as an Outstanding Universal Value: An Introduction with Case Studies of Chinese World Cultural Heritage Sites | Jun Zheng

Soundscape is defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as the “acoustic environment as perceived or experienced and/or understood by a person or people, in context.”2 Analysis shows that international research on this subject has developed slowly since the concept was introduced in the 1960s but has picked up pace over the past fifteen years.3 According to Scopus, 2,720 publications on the topic were produced between 1985 and May 8, 2018.4 Statistical analysis of these publications shows that regional distribution of soundscape research is uneven, with most of publications addressing cases in occidental countries. For example, of these 2,720 publications more than 40 percent were published by authors from the United States (571 entries) and UK (519 entries) combined, while only 140 entries pertained to Chinese soundscapes. The subjects of these 140 publications focused primarily on urban open space, city parks and gardens, public spaces, open markets, and busy streets in China. Few addressed the sites from a cultural heritage perspective.5 Analysis of Chinese publications up to April 2019 shows that studies specifically related to Chinese soundscape heritage were even more limited.6

The current paper introduces international readers to Chinese soundscape heritage to inspire research interest in this underexamined category of heritage. In this paper I argue for the preservation of Chinese soundscape through the presentation of three case studies. I address (1) Chinese historical perceptions of sound, (2) underlying philosophical and cultural constructs for a concept of “soundscape heritage,” (3) historical design techniques used to shape soundscapes, (4) challenges to soundscape heritage preservation, and (5) methods or approaches to soundscape heritage interpretation.

To date, there has not been comprehensive research in China on the definition of soundscape heritage; the criteria for evaluating soundscape values or significance; or a methodology for documenting and assessing the attributes, integrity, and authenticity of soundscape heritage.7 In this paper, the term “Chinese soundscape heritage” refers to soundscapes designed in and with nature according to philosophical, cultural, or religious principles for the enhancement of physical and mental well-being. The terms “soundscape,” “sound environment,” and “sonic environment” are used interchangeably.

The soundscape heritage sites are selected based on the following criteria…


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