Rejuvenating cultural heritage#Oriental Outlook#-Sino-US

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Rejuvenating cultural heritage

Most tourists visiting Beijing head to the northern suburbs of the city to climb the Great Wall, either the Badaling section, Mutianyu section or Juyongguan section.

The Great Wall, extending thousands of kilometers in China’s northern part, is a great cultural heritage site that attracts people either for the landscape around it or the great spirit associated with it.

Not only the Great Wall, there are many other kinds of cultural heritage sites across the country and the historical inheritance need to be well protected.

In the 47th issue of 2018, the Oriental Outlook magazine under the Xinhua News Agency ran a cover story on the protection of cultural heritage sites in the country, talking about the efforts and the legislation on protection in four decades.

Below is an excerpt of the article.

A nation’s cultural heritage represents the “root” and “soul” of its culture developed over a long history. Every nation's cultural revival begins with a summary of its own heritage.

During the past four decades of China’s reform and opening up, China has made good achievements in the protection of cultural heritage.

China has established a complete system of cultural protection from scratch, including the Cultural Relics Protection Law, six administrative regulations, seven departmental rules and a batch of local regulations.

The number of people working for the cultural heritage protection has increased from 26,000 in the beginning of the reform and opening up era to more than 160,000 by the end of 2017.

The special transfer of funds for cultural relics protection by the central government has reached 10.8 billion yuan in 2018 from 7 million yuan in 1978.

In 1985, China joined the UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, promising to protect the world heritage.

In 1987, six cultural heritage sites were added to the world cultural heritage list, including the Great Wall, Palace Museum, the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian, the Mausoleum of Qinshihuang and its Terracotta Warriors and Horses, Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes and Mount Tai.

So far, China has 53 cultural heritage sites on the world cultural heritage list, ranking the second highest in the world.

There is a general consensus on the need to protect cultural heritage. But, for a rapidly urbanizing country, connecting the protection closely with common people’s life and drawing the participation of people in the protection work are highly complex problems.

Cultural heritage is not a static and isolated object of protection, but may be a driving force for regional economic development. Local governments and residents shoulder the protection responsibility and also share the benefits.

Development should not sacrifice the unique value of the heritage, but inclusive policies should be adopted to make the site a cultural and educational experience area without walls and tickets.

The cultural heritage protection needs to be taken out of the existing framework, bringing heritage, economy, society and ecology into the vision at the same level.

In the long run, the protection should not only rely on some single steps, but it needs the mechanism and legal means to drive social forces to participate in the protection amid the development.

From protection to “revitalization,” China has made diverse and effective explorations in the cultural heritage protection.

Great Wall protection

Take the Great Wall as an example. For such an important cultural heritage which is a symbol of the Chinese nation, the protection is very difficult because of its scale and range.

There are 43,721 sites of walls, passes, castles, monolithic buildings and remains relating to the Great Wall scattered in 404 counties in 97 cities of 15 provinces, regions and municipalities.

But through efforts from the government, social organizations and individuals, the protection has achieved good results, forming a new format of “government guidance and social participation.”

The practices include local authorities employing residents as Great Wall protectors, carrying out activities of raising public funds and establishing voluntary organizations such as International Friends of Great Wall.

A big dilemma in protecting the Great Wall is the manpower shortage. According to the statistics in 2016, there were only about 1,000 protectors at more than 40,000 sections.

Zhang Yimeng, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, said that compared with one manager supervising 4.7 heritage sites on average nationwide, one manager needs to supervise 40 sections of the Great Wall.

To make up for the shortfall, since 2003, local authorities started to employ residents along the Great Wall to patrol, repair and report risks. Currently, there are about 5,000 such protectors.

The China Foundation for Cultural Heritage Conservation under the National Cultural Heritage Administration has launched a donation activity in September 2016 to raise money from the public for the Great Wall protection.

In the first public fund-raising program to protect the Great Wall, more than 100,000 people have donated over 30 million yuan for renovating two sections of the Great Wall.

“The main aim is not to raise money, but lead people to pay more attention and join in the protection, publicizing the concept of protecting the Great Wall on a large scale,” said Song Xinchao, deputy director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration.
The non-governmental organization was established in 1999. The founder Zhang Jun and many volunteers for the website have inspected the Great Wall many times, setting up a database and using social media to publicize the knowledge and protection situation.

In 2006, the State Council, or China’s cabinet, approved the Regulations on the Protection of the Great Wall, setting a legal milestone in protecting the site. And according to the regulation, the cultural heritage administration prepared the general plan for the Great Wall protection.

Song said the planning would be made public soon, and the administration will supervise and organize the study and implementation of the planning, further unifying ideas, upgrading concepts and implementing the tasks and objectives.

The Great Wall protection has provided experiences for the protection of sites across the country, and the Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes could be a good example, said Song.

Local authorities have made complete management system, prospective conservation planning and good publicity and display strategies, really bringing the heritage into the society, he said.

Ancient roads protection

The revitalization alongside protection is a kind of sustainable way to enhance the charm of the cultural heritage sites.

The revitalization of “South China Historical Trail”, ancient roads and waterways in southern Guangdong province, provided experiences, such as reviving historical memories through lots of promotion activities.

The historical trail contains the roads and waterways used before 1913 for delivering documents, transporting materials and personnel exchanges. The transportation network took shape about 2000 years ago.

As a cultural heritage site, the historical trail has no longer been used for transportation. The remains along the routes collapsed and were abandoned, and the villages along the routes fell into poverty.

However, in recent years, Guangdong province has integrated the protection of the heritage sites with the regional development, providing valuable insights for the current heritage protection work.

The total length of the trail includes 6,000 kilometers of roads and 4,000 kilometers of waterways, which means that the protection is very hard and could not be done through traditional methods.

Within 5 kilometers on both sides along the trail, 60 percent of Guangdong’s poor villages are located, and the key objective of the protection work to alleviate poverty and promote regional development.

Guangdong developed the strategy combining housing, culture, tourism, agriculture, sports, industry and commerce for the protection in such a large-scale space and lots of villages, such as shaping the cultural brand through sports events.

Since 2016, the province launched the protection work, repairing the ancient roads, connecting the historical remains, villages and natural sites, carrying out outside sports events and village tourism, targeting precise poverty relief.

Except for the top design from the provincial level, Guangdong also encourages local authorities to apply for the protection program, and they can use the funds allocated for the protection to implement their plans.

A leading group and a special expert committee are also established to push ahead the protection and development work. Community resources are mobilized in making the e-map, mobile applications and WeChat public accounts.

The memory of common history has been awakened among the public and communities through lots of brand promotion activities. The public enthusiasm has been mobilized to realize the social value of heritage.

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