- Course: Architecture and urbanism PhD
- PhD title: Reshaping memory and identity through the concept of 'ecomuseum': Re-connecting the caretakers and imperial tombs of the Qing Dynasty in China
- LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/meng-li-486860104
Meng Li is part of the Cities, Infrastructure and Energy research group and her PhD research spans the wider theme of architecture and urbanism.
Studying imperial tombs of the Qing Dynasty in China
Meng Li’s research involves documenting the practice of caretakers who maintained imperial tombs in history, and using the concept of an ‘ecomuseum’ to deliver an experience of their lives to their descendents in the present day.
“There are many imperial tombs from different dynasties in China,” Meng Li said.
“For this research, I am studying the imperial tombs of Qing dynasty, specifically the Eastern Qing tombs. I will select a community of the caretakers’ descendants as the case study to test my hypothesis.
She continued: “The first step of the research includes exploring and documenting the daily practice needed of caretakers in history to safeguard the imperial tombs. Then, the next step will be to investigate the intangible culture such as memory, identity and practice inherited by the community of caretakers’ descendants in the present day.
The aim is to enrich the conservation of the Eastern Qing Tombs by combining physical architectures and intangible cultural elements.
She added: “The idea of the ‘ecomuseum,’ which is a museum focused on social participation and the identity of place, will be another key point in this research. This medium will bridge the gap between documentation, preservation and display, and the intangible elements carried by the community.”
Meng Li explained how working with other postgraduate researchers has enriched her own learning experiences.
She said: “Working alongside the growing community of architects and engineers with different backgrounds is a great opportunity for me to expand my ideas and think about my research from new perspectives.
“Particularly, Leeds is a great place to enhance my interest in architecture and urbanism by developing alongside and being influenced by the expertise of academic staff and my peers.
The specialist architecture knowledge and resources in the School, coupled with the dynamic interdisciplinary setting, I am confident, will enrich my thought and inspire me to have more innovative ideas.
Career development and support
Meng Li is supervised by Dr Gehan Selim and Professor Stephen Garrity.
She said: “Both my supervisors are nice people and very helpful. Professor Garrity has a background in structural engineering, and although this differs from my background, he always reads my reports seriously and gives me many helpful comments and encouragement.
“My main supervisor, Dr Selim, is very supportive; she has a background in architecture and has a lot of experience in heritage conservation. She always guarantees me enough supervision time to discuss my research, reviews my report seriously and gives me feedback as soon as possible.
Dr Selim... who has a background in archuitecture... has also enhanced my confidence by encouraging me to be a strong and self-starting researcher.
“Moreover, Dr Selim always suggests useful information and news related to my research, and takes the time to discuss my future career development plan with me. She has also enhanced my confidence by encouraging me to be a strong and self-starting researcher.”
Meng Li worked as a Lecturer in a College in her hometown for around five years, teaching in heritage management and conservation, before coming to Leeds to do a PhD.
She said: “There are two main reasons for me to decide to apply for a PhD at Leeds. First, doing a PhD is a continuation of my previous work. I have much motivation to improve my ability to be a qualified researcher in the field of heritage preservation.
“Secondly, I did my Master in the UK at Glasgow Caledonian University several years ago, and the experience of studying abroad inspired me a lot.
The ranking of University of Leeds is always very high; it is a good place for me to take my education further.
Heritage management is a topic that Meng Li has considered from an early age.
She continued: “My parents always took me to museums when we travelled to some places as visitors, when I was a little girl, which encouraged me a lot to explore stories behind the old objects,” she said.
“When I did my undergraduate degree in Beijing, my father took me to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Eastern Qing Tombs one day, which is the first time I accessed the site. I was so impressed by the buildings, culture and history there.
“However, the environment and facilities of the site was not satisfied at that point in time. Heritage studies was not my major in the stage of undergraduate, but problems of heritage management emerged in my mind from then.”
Preserving cultural heritage in China
Meng Li got the opportunity to think about issues of heritage management and conservation seriously during her Masters degree.
She said: “My thesis related to the interpretation system in the Stirling Castle and the Edinburgh Castle.
“After acquiring my MA, I went back to my hometown to teach courses related to museum and heritage to the students, as well as doing some research in intangible heritage protection.
She continued: “Since 2018 I have carried out my PhD here in Leeds to hone my research skills. When I decided the topic of my PhD for next several years, the Eastern Qing Tombs emerged immediately in my mind.”
It has been more than ten years from the first time I have been the site with my father, and now I will contribute something to this site.
She added: “I hope that I can bring some new ideas and give some practical suggestion to the cultural heritage preservation in China to enrich the heritage studies, especially the combination of tangible and intangible heritage conservation.
“I also would like to suggest a framework to enrich the development of the ‘ecomuseum’ application in the country by encouraging more of the community to engage in preserving culture.”
Leeds Doctoral College
Meng Li talked about her life as a postgraduate researcher at Leeds and her future career plans.
She said: “When I arrived I attended the inductions held by the both Doctoral College and the School, respectively. These are to introduce new PhD students to each other and the department, and both were useful.
Leeds Doctoral College is a good opportunity for postgraduate researchers from different disciplines to get know each other by attending different activities it hosts.
Future career plans
“I would like to stay in the academia after my PhD,” said Meng Li.
“I hope that I can work in the UK for a while to obtain some experience of working abroad.”
I would like to make some efforts on cooperation and communication of the heritage studies and conservation between my own country (China) and the UK.