Public awareness and safeguarding traditional knowledge: challenges and conflicts in preserving and representing kārīz/kănérjĭng in Xinjiang, PR China

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Strategies of stimulating public awareness and implementing measures to safeguard traditional knowledge of the water management techniques generally known under the terms qanāt or kārīz involve paths of imbedding the technique into the history of a given society. The present study approaches such strategies in the case of the underground water networks in the arid regions in Xinjiang, North Western China, known there under the terms kārīz or kănérjĭng. There is an on-going debate concerning the beginnings of the construction of kārīz in Xinjiang. A recent revival of this technique started with a movement of kārīz (re)construction in the 1950s–1960s. In recent decades the kārīz/kănérjĭng water network has suffered due to the expansion of deep well drilling. At the same time the issue has become an object of museum representation. The first museum, Turfan Kariz Paradise, opened its gates in 1992; the Karez Folk Custom Garden, with a more pronounced event and commercial character, was inaugurated in 2000. Both exhibitions are near Turfan. They both demonstrate the traditional construction and maintenance techniques, and stress the strong linkage between local society and the specific traditional water technology. This paper argues that preserving the kārīz/kănérjĭng in the area of Turfan has become a delicate instrument in the political balance involving local authorities, the provincial government in Urumuqi and the central government in Beijing.

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