Preserving the past, China's future priority

When Shan Jixiang, former head of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, approved the excavation of a 2,000-year-old tomb of Haihunhou five years ago, he did not expect the discovery to be extraordinary.

"I made the decision simply because the tomb had the risk of being robbed, considering its remote location and signs of robbery were already found," said Shan, now the curator of the Palace Museum.

But since excavation began in 2011, the tomb has continually offered new surprises. Nearly 3,000 wooden tablets and bamboo slips were unearthed as well as a large number of bronze, gold and jade items, all of which captured national interest.

"The general public became the real fans of our work, as we made exhibitions equally important as excavation and protection," said Xin Lixiang, head of the excavation panel.

China is home to huge numbers of historic relics, most of which are related to people's everyday life. Responding to the increasing urgency for better protection and utilization of those treasures, a national meeting on the topic was held on Tuesday.

FROM CONFLICT TO COMPLEMENT

With fast urbanization underway, striking a balance between conservation of cultural relics and economic development is never easy.

For farmers living in Xiaosikong Village in central China's Henan Province, home to the Yin Ruins, a discovery site of oracle bones and script, their dreams of moving into new homes finally come true.

The construction ban in the UNESCO cultural heritage site once dragged more than 17,000 villagers in the 30-square-km protection area into poverty over the past decades.

Since the inscription of the Yin Ruins on the world cultural heritage list in 2006, 78 factories were torn down to make room for preservation and greenery. It has taken its toll on the local economy.

At one point, local residents risked building their own homes without official approval in 2013, bringing serious damage to the palaces, temples and tombs still preserved underground.

The local government then organized a working group consisting of members from the city's discipline inspection, land and resources, urban construction and law enforcement departments to solve the issue.

According to the local government's plan, housing settlements out away from Yin Ruins are about to break ground for at least 2,000 households. Another 13 hectares of land have also been allocated for another 8,500 households who used to live inside the ancient site.

"Tourism-related programs near the Yin Ruins will create jobs and increase income for the farmers who have lost their land," said Che Junchao, director of the local relics protection department.

"Local governments often consider economic development and heritage conservation two issues that conflict with each other, while they can contribute to each other," said Huang Zhenchun, deputy curator of the National Museum of China.

MORE FUNDS

According to the third national archaeological survey which was completed in 2011, there are more than 760,000 registered unmovable cultural items.

North China's Shanxi Province has the largest number of ancient architecture in China and abundant coal resources underneath them as well.

Economic development and relic protection are both responsibilities of the government, said Geng Yeqiang, economic professor at Shanxi University. "But a city's cultural and historic value should prevail in a developed society."

The central government invested 2.2 billion yuan (340 million U.S. dollars) toward relic protection in the province between 2011 to 2015, four times more than the previous five-year period, data showed.

Last week, the provincial financial department announced it would appropriate 120 million yuan for the protection, excavation and exhibition of cultural relics in Shanxi.

Promising more government funds, the national meeting also suggested that private sectors should be mobilized and involved in the effort.

"Proper and moderate utilization of relics in exchange for more protection funds can be a virtuous cycle for a healthy development of China's relics protection course," Geng said.

PUBLIC PARTICIPATION

In southwest China's Guizhou Provincial Library, Wang Xiaohong has been repairing ancient books for 36 years. The library has hundreds of thousands of books to be repaired, but the number of qualified repairers is less than 100.

"It requires patience, carefulness and responsibility. I am getting old, but young people are not interested in the job," Wang said.

In 2014, the national ancient books protection center set up 12 training bases across China, one of which in Guizhou. More than 130 people, most of them from minority ethnic groups, have participated in the training since then.

To recruit more talent, Shan called for encouraging the involvement of the general public. "The public are entitled to be informed of the protection work and become beneficiaries."

About 180,000 people have visited the Haihunhou exhibition since December in eastern Jiangxi Province where the tomb was excavated. People in Beijing have also flocked to the Capital Museum to have a glimpse of the luxury of ancient life that has been on display since early March.

"The public are after all the creator, user and protector of cultural heritages. Their participation justifies the very existence of our work and determines the future," Shan said.

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