In 2008, George Town was jointly listed with Malacca as a World Heritage Site. It was Malaysia’s third listing, and the first in the category of cultural heritage. But how did the award come to pass and what does it say about Penang’s vibrant civil society?
It’s not easy getting a Unesco listing. Apart from the rigorous assessment criteria, the nomination process can be highly political – tourist income, public recognition and federal funding drive state governments to compete with one another for endorsement. The decision over which heritage is national or which period of history deserves to be monumentalised is often based on tactful selection rather than pure fact. After all, defining the past also defines the present.
Negotiating national heritage
The federal government, which has the authority to decide the submission content, repeatedly opted for Malacca and omitted Penang.
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