The Cultural Heritage Conservation Experience in China

The Critical Decade

by Jixiang Shan (Author)
Monographs XII, 564 Pages


This book summarizes China’s ten-year experience of cultural heritage protection by providing case analysis of both successful and unsatisfying practices. It is written with an academic perspective and based on the author’s real practice. The first part highlights the cultural distinction in urban planning; the second part analyzes the cultural heritage protection concept and practice in China’s urbanization; the third part focuses on China’s museums in a revolutionary era. The book records the development stages of China’s cultural heritage protection theory and practice and shows the challenges in the new era. It answers questions such as how to protect historic community and villages, how to protect the heritage site and build heritage parks, and what is the role of museums regarding social responsibility and people’s well-being. Cultural heritage and museum planning are closely linked to the economy, urban life, and local memory. China’s experience in the past decade is also meaningful to cultural protection courses on an international level.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I
  • Reflections on Improving the Conservation and Management of Global Cultural Heritage
  • The Conservation of Cultural Heritage in a Rapidly Urbanizing Society
  • Reflections on the Overall Conservation of Large-Scale Ancient Cities
  • From “Developing Cities Around Old Boroughs” to “Developing New Boroughs and Protecting Old Ones”
  • From “Drastic Demolition and Construction” to “Integral Conservation”
  • From “Large-Scale Renovation of Old and Dilapidated Homes” to “Gradual Progress and Organic Renewal” — Exploring scientific paths and instilling organic order in the conservation of historical boroughs (Part Two)
  • Placing an Emphasis on Lineal Heritage
  • Emphasizing New Forms of Cultural Heritage
  • Valuing the Conservation and Development of Commercial Heritage Belonging to Time-Honored Brands
  • Analyzing the Transformation from Functional Cities to Cultural Cities
  • Conservation of Urban Cultural Heritage and Urban Cultural Construction
  • Reflections on Cities, Culture and Urban Culture
  • Urban Culture and Traditional Culture, Regional Culture and Cultural Diversity
  • The Sublimation of Urban Cultural Ideals and the Construction of Cultural Cities
  • Reshaping urban cultural characteristics and building “cultural cities”
  • Part II
  • The Ideals and Practice of 20th-century Cultural Heritage Conservation
  • The Development of Cultural Heritage Management in China
  • Research on Rural Architectural Heritage Conservation and Methods
  • Focusing on New Cultural Heritage: ‘Cultural Route’ Heritage Conservation
  • A Brief Analysis of Urban Cultural Landscape Heritage Conservation
  • Investigations and Practice in Rural Cultural Landscape Heritage Conservation
  • From “Cultural Landscape” to “Cultural Landscape Heritage”
  • A Preliminary Discussion on Scientific Development of Archaeological Site Parks
  • Site Museum for Conservation and Presentation of Archaeological Sites
  • Site Museum of Protective Reuse
  • Ecomuseum: Protection in Original Context (I)
  • Ecomuseum: Protection in Original Context (II)
  • Appendix: List of Key Cultural Heritage Organizations Concepts, Documents, Laws, Organizations and Documents mentioned in text

Introduction: The Body is Strengthened Through Exercise; The Spirit, Through Reading1

One can, of course, choose to simply read and not write. I, however, enjoy learning through a combination of both activities.

Owing to my background in architecture, I spent many years working in urban planning on countless projects of all sorts. A desire for knowledge led me to read works pertaining to a number of fields — but in the past, I tended to study in a perfunctory, superficial manner, glossing over the details, only really focusing on things that were necessary to the task at hand, and never really reflecting on what I had learned. When I began working in the sector of cultural preservation, I was suddenly surrounded by scholars who had studied and taught their entire lives — people who were leading authorities in their domains of expertise, whether it be history, archaeology, museology or ancient architecture. I became deeply aware of just how little I knew in comparison to them, and knew that I would have difficulty keeping up at daily conferences, events and social engagements if I didn’t do something about it. One of my methods of filling in gaps in my education was to combine reading and writing. In other words, I would conduct in-depth research into some of the most pressing matters of my field and summarize what I had read in writing form. For example:

— At the end of 2005, as I assisted with the Fifteen Year Plan for Cultural Preservation in China, I became aware of the speed and extent of urbanization in China. This urbanization will inevitably be accompanied by large-scale construction and is the phase of economic development that poses the greatest threat to China’s cultural heritage. As a means of adapting to this rapid change, our work as conservationists must be based on correct judgments and innovative principles. To this end, I attentively read a number of theoretical works on patterns of economic development and systemic reform before writing my own work on the subject in June 2006, entitled Urbanized Development and the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. In this work, based on an analysis of the state of urbanization and cultural heritage preservation in China, I proposed a strategy comprising multiple elements, including the harmonious development of historic cities, the overall conservation of historical boroughs; and last, the “organic renewal” of historic streets.

— In autumn 2006, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the Ministry of Culture, and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage decided that an “International Symposium on Urban Culture” would be held in Beijing in June 2007. This was the first time that the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development teamed up with cultural departments to discuss problems relating to urban culture. At this large-scale international conference, they reflected on the increasingly prominent phenomenon in China whereby historic cities have been renewed in such a way that saps them of their specificity, and engaged to place a greater emphasis on the conservation of cultural heritage in urban development. For this occasion, I studied a number of theoretical works on the subject of urban development and culture before writing my own work on the subject, entitled Making the Leap from Functional Cities to Cultural Cities (published in June 2007). Based on an analysis of the practical significance of research into urban cultural issues, this work analyses the way in which cities are influenced by traditional and regional culture, as well as cultural diversity. It identifies eight main aspects in urban cultural development in order to propose an overall strategy for helping China’s functional cities make the transition to cultural cities.

— In April 2007, the State Council’s Notice Regarding the 3rd National Cultural Heritage Survey was released, marking the official beginning of the nation’s largest investigation into its cultural heritage resources. This survey extended to all immovable cultural artifacts on land, underground, and under the sea on Chinese territory. So as to empirically identify new forms of cultural artifacts from the modern era — in particular, those that have attracted attention in recent years on the international scene, such as rural buildings, industrial heritage, 20th century relics and cultural routes — and promptly include them in the national survey, I conducted in-depth research and wrote a book entitled From the “Preservation of Cultural Relics” to the “Preservation of Cultural Heritage,” which was published in November 2008. Based on an analysis of the evolution of cultural preservation efforts, both in China and abroad, the book summarizes the development trends at this new phase in the preservation of Chinese cultural heritage, as well as making a case for the increased preservation of new forms of cultural heritage.

— In June 2008, the “World Heritage Preservation Forum in Hangzhou” was held. This forum received widespread attention as it was the first time that issues pertaining to the preservation of “cultural landscapes” were addressed in China. In order to set this aspect of China’s cultural preservation in motion, it was decided that cultural landscapes would also be the theme of the “Chinese Heritage Preservation Forum in Wuxi”. This new form of cultural preservation requires a sturdy foundation of theoretical research that takes into account China’s specific context. Therefore, I studied a number of works on the subject of scenery, ecology and the environment in order to write Delving into the World of Cultural Landscape Preservation, which was published in November 2009. Based on a summary of international efforts to preserve sociocultural landscapes throughout the globe, this work categorizes and elaborates on the characteristics of different types of cultural landscapes in China, as well as proposing strategies for their preservation.

— In October 2010, the International Council of Museums held their 22nd General Conference in Shanghai. This was a momentous occasion for the international museological community, where different nations of the world could learn from one another and where Chinese museums could improve their grasp of theory and management. Currently, Chinese museums are experiencing unprecedented growth. China has also led the way in making thousands of its museums free to the public. For museums throughout the globe, this new trend presents both opportunities and challenges. Therefore, there is a dire need for research that analyses the current state and predicts the future growth of Chinese museums. In particular, the development of Chinese museums can be promoted through dialogues and collaborations overseas. To make up for this lack of research, I attentively studied several works from China and overseas on the subject of museology. Based on what I had read, I then wrote a book entitled From “Increasing Quantity” to “Improving Quality”.

The experiences and achievements listed above made me realize that we must not only value learning new things — we must also explore new methods of learning. Through a combination of reading and writing, one can learn more consciously and effectively. There is a dialectical relationship between these two activities. On one hand, reading is the foundation of writing —the only way to improve the accuracy, profundity and creativity of one’s writing is to read new works, acquire new knowledge, understand different points of view and develop one’s own ideas. On the other hand, writing can help us take scraps of knowledge and process them into a cohesive, interconnected whole. It helps us make the superficial profound and find rational sense where before there was purely emotion. Therefore, this combination can be thought of as a method of learning. Having experimented with it for several years, it has led me to the following four realizations:

The first is that research must be relevant to the most pressing theoretical questions that arise in the day-to-day work of museologists. As profound and far-reaching change occurs both in Chinese society and throughout the globe, museums will inevitably face a series of complicated dilemmas. It is only through reading that we can stand tall and see into the distance — that we can ensure our knowledge does not become obsolete, that our contemplation doesn’t stagnate, and that our abilities do not regress. In particular, we must orient our research according to the problems at hand and strive to maintain a close relationship between theory and practice. Through a combination of reading and writing, we can allow our points of view to be continually criticized or praised by others, creating a dialogue that will inspire us to expand upon existing theories and form new ideas. This will in turn make us greater authorities in academia and create a more proactive working environment. When we attack the greatest problems at hand, the solutions to smaller problems often appear by themselves.

The second is that research must be thoroughly planned and methodical. Writing based on research needs to have a clear underlying structure and a solid theoretical foundation for it to have any practical significance. Currently, both in China and overseas, there is a wealth of relevant research, with each author shedding light on important museological issues. However, much of this research is terse and overwritten. All of the valuable ideas that they contain deserve greater recognition from researchers, but these ideas are obscured from everyone but experts by a series of jargon-like expressions. During my doctorate degree, my mentor Professor Wu Liangyong advocated for a kind of “holistic representation of complex systems” in academic writing — in other words, scholars should clearly and concisely evoke the interconnectedness of concepts while at the same time making main points readily apparent to readers. Over many years I have followed this principle and have found it immensely helpful. Therefore, researchers should focus on authoritative works and pay attention to the latest developments in museological theory, while at the same time incorporating observations from their work in the field in order to form a comprehensive summary of the subject at hand.

The third is that we must maintain a close link between theory and practice, placing an emphasis on the applicability and practical significance of research. Former Chairman Mao Zedong once said, “Reading is learning, but applying is also learning and the more important kind of learning at that.” Reading is not the goal, and neither is writing — the true goal is to grasp the true state of things and guide practice accordingly. Much like current paramount leader of the PRC Xi Jinping said, “What we read in books belongs to someone else; in order to make it our own, we have to engage in reflection. Knowledge in books is dead; it is only through reflection that we can bring it to life and use it to our advantage.” Therefore, whether it is through reading or writing, we must focus on the tasks at hand and reflect on real-life problems, as well as turning our gaze towards the latest forms of implementation and development. Meanwhile, we must express what we have learned using our own words — only then can my method of “reading and writing” become effective, and the results of our research, a beacon that guides our work in the field.

The fourth is that we must achieve a balance between work and study, putting “reading and writing” into practice at a sustainable pace. As people who are responsible for completing a number of onerous administrative tasks on a daily basis, we cannot spend a lot of time each day reading and writing. However, we must make reading and writing an indispensable component of our daily schedules, proceeding gradually and with perseverance. In recent years, I spent around 2–3 hours reading and writing in the evening. Over time, it has become part of my routine to sit down at a desk after dinner, relax myself, and concentrate wholly on research. This has provided a pleasant counterpart to the stressful rhythm of my office hours, as well as making up for gaps in my knowledge. Thanks to this routine, I easily manage to read several dozen books and write around 200–300 thousand words a year. Thus far, I have published five books and hundreds of articles.

These days, the most blissful part of my day is after dinner, when I pour myself a cup of tea, open up a good book and turn on my computer. The body is strengthened through exercise; the spirit, through reading. This process of “reading and writing” is a source of inexhaustible joy through which we can resolve the dilemmas of our profession and comprehend the truth. Some people have told me that they are too busy at work and that they’ll wait until retirement before they try and condense their experiences into writing. My viewpoint is somewhat different: right now, we have the opportunity to gain first-hand insights from our work and put what we learn into practice. Therefore, now is precisely the best time to engage in my method of combined reading and writing. By the time we retire, can read some of the things we wanted to read but didn’t have time to, as well as sharing drinks with friends and talking about the good old days. I am of the opinion that one should put in one’s all at the times that matter most and rest when all is said and done.

Leadership science is a massive and terribly complicated system whose diverse components are all interconnected, much like the issues that key leaders themselves face. The process via which these problems are overcome is often non-linear and constantly challenges leaders’ experiences and preconceptions. Therefore, as we read and write, we need to value the fusion of knowledge and experience, as well as the accumulation of wisdom and inspiration. If leaders are to use their limited study time in a productive manner, they must be able to see things from a variety of perspectives and think creatively, as well as striving to grasp overall patterns of growth and observing the latest breakthroughs in their domain. Furthermore, in addition to broadening the scope of their knowledge, leaders can also use reading and writing as a means of honing certain qualities, such as reason and logic, or a passionate and poetic sensibility. They can gain new insights into the meaning of life, as well as improving their team spirit, creativity, social skills and organizational abilities. Only those whose spirit has been strengthened by the ups and downs of life can truly comprehend the joy of learning.

In spite of all obstacles, I consider myself fortunate to be at the core of cultural heritage preservation and the construction of cultural establishments in China’s cities during this period of immense economic growth and social reform. In the last two decades, I have coordinated several collaborations between urban planning and cultural preservation departments. Throughout this process, I have constantly had the same impression. On one hand, the urban planning departments do not pay enough attention to the practical dilemmas of cultural heritage preservation, with many cities failing to make cultural heritage a priority throughout their development. On the other hand, the field of cultural heritage preservation has cloistered itself for too long, rarely actively engaging itself in urban development planning. Therefore, I have hoped for a long time to use reading and writing as a means of sharing my insights into these two fields and creating a lasting dialogue between them and other related domains. This will exponentially increase the effectiveness of research and implementation.

In recent years, my combination of reading and writing has helped me to approach research with a set of questions already in mind and apply the answers directly to my work. In this way, the results of several studies have been promptly channeled into real-life solutions, with some suggestions having already been made a reality — or, at least, an objective towards which we are currently striving. Meanwhile, using this method of learning, I have proposed a number of new topics of research on the subject of cultural heritage preservation and urban cultural development. This includes reflections on the relationship between eight pairs of concepts: quantity and quality of national heritage; protection of individual buildings and of communities as a whole; government-led and citizen-led conservation; effective conservation and pro-active conservation; cultural heritage and cultural resources; accumulation of culture and creation of culture; cultural marketing and cultural revival; as well as eras of cultural development and eras of economic development. Through my writing, I have advocated for the adoption of more proactive policies and more empirical, effective methods in the preservation of cultural heritage and urban cultural development.

1 This essay was published in China Culture Daily, December 22, 2009.

Chapter 1

Reflections on Improving the Conservation and Management of Global Cultural Heritage1

In recent years, the principles of the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage have been unanimously approved by the international community. Under UNESCO’s leadership, the protection of the cultural heritage has become a global movement in which the convention’s signatories have participated with increasing fervour. As awareness of the importance of world heritage increases, regions all throughout China have begun to apply for heritage status with unprecedented enthusiasm. On one hand, this has promoted the preservation and management of world cultural heritage; though on the other, it has created a number of problems that cannot be overlooked.

In November 1972, UNESCO held its 17th General Conference in Paris and passed the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which stipulated that cultural and natural heritage sites with outstanding universal value are to be recorded on the World Heritage List so as to ensure their effective management and preservation. Currently, there are a total of 788 sites on this list. As this list expands, leaders have increasingly paid attention to the current state of world heritage preservation, as well as strategies for its improvement. These strategies include investing in capacity building and staff training; more in-depth research; technological improvement; and more effective international collaborations. At the same time, they have developed a greater appreciation of the need for diversity and representativeness when selecting sites for heritage list applications.

In November 1985, China joined the Convention, promising to perform the obligations and liabilities stipulated therein. Two years later, the first batch of Chinese heritage sites, including the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City in Beijing, were added to the World Heritage List. Today, over 30 heritage sites in China are recorded on the list, 22 of which are cultural, 4 are natural, and 4 are defined as having dual cultural and natural value. This makes China the nation with the third most heritage sites after Italy (39) and Spain (38).

China’s world-class cultural heritage is defined by traits such as abundance, diversity, even geographic distribution, fusion of natural and cultural value, and multiple methods of preservation. The majority of these heritage sites are groups of ancient buildings, stone grotto temples, ancient mausoleums, ancient cultural landmarks, as well as historic cities and villages with immense cultural value. In recent years, China has made leaps and bounds in terms of the preservation of its world-class heritage. Not only are the heritage sites and their surrounds cleaner than they used to be; the benefits they bring to society and the economy are increasing day by day. However, the quality of heritage preservation and management in China is far from meeting the requirements of international conventions, and pales in comparison to standards set by developed nations. At the 27th General Assembly of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Paris, 2003, the state of seven world heritage sites in China elicited the concern of the World Heritage Centre. Currently, problems in the preservation and management of China’s world heritage sites are mainly limited to the following few aspects:

Awareness of the importance of cultural heritage preservation is low. Currently, regions throughout China tend to prioritize applying for heritage and exploiting new cultural resources while neglecting fundamental questions of preservation and upkeep. Chinese heritage sites tend to be heavily commercialized, falsified and urbanized. The underlying objective of applying for world heritage status is meant to be the improvement of heritage conservation, but many places throughout China are ignorant of this. Some places unthinkingly invest enormous sums of money into applying for world heritage status as they see it as a form of prestige that will attract tourists in droves. Once their application is approved, they emphasize exploitation and development. This leads to the demolition of artifacts that are deemed unimportant in order to make place for services, facilities and new scenic areas, as well as erosion from excessive traffic. When historical buildings collapse from neglect and mismanagement, they are often hastily reconstructed without any thought to authenticity. For instance, at Mount Tai, a world heritage site with dual cultural and natural value, three cableways have been built, which collectively transport up to 1,500 people an hour. As a result, the peak, which has a surface area of only 0.6 square kilometer, is often severely overcrowded. Traffic at another world heritage site, the Forbidden City in Beijing, should ideally be limited to 30,000–40,000 visits a day; however, on peak days, it actually receives over 100,000 visits. Meanwhile, at the Qingcheng Mountain-Dujiangyan Irrigation System world heritage site in Sichuan Province, a lotus pond was drained and filled with concrete to build a square serving beer in the core conservation area. This has had negative consequences for the beauty of the natural scenery.

The management system is complicated, with too many people presiding over the same matters and too many sites being managed by low-level administrative divisions. The majority of world heritage sites in China combine protected cultural buildings, places of worship, tourist development zones and villages. Some sites also boast forests, geoparks and scenic landscapes. Very often, each aspect of the one heritage site is managed by a separate department, which leads to a number of problems in its preservation and management. Each department scrambles over one another for any potential profits; when things go awry, they push responsibility onto one another; and resources are not evenly distributed. For example, the conservation of Mount Huang, a heritage site with dual cultural and natural significance, was originally planned so that tourists would stay the night at the foot of the mountain, and sight-see at the top. However, as the top of the mountain and the scenic zone at the bottom are administered by unaffiliated departments, the department presiding over the former has, for its own financial benefit, decided to built a number of hotels and restaurants. This means that many tourists and administrative staff choose to stay put at the top of the mountain, causing it to become thoroughly urbanized. Some world heritage sites are divided into different zones that are presided over by separate departments or regional governments, with each zone requiring the purchase of a new ticket to enter. This puts a financial stress on tourists. Meanwhile, although some heritage sites are directly managed by provincial governments, most are controlled by regional or county-level governments. This low-level governance is often accompanied by problems in terms of management; values and principles; scientific research; and attracting talented staff.

Some regions subcontract the management of world heritage sites, which means that preservation policies are not implemented thoroughly. In certain extreme cases, this can even lead to precious cultural relics such as ancient buildings being severely damaged. The preservation and management of world heritage sites is primarily about benefiting society and requires a scientific, professional approach. More often than not, after sites are subcontracted, their subcontractors are purely concerned with ensuring maximum returns on investments. They plunder resources with little thought to long-term consequences, and continually raise entry fees while neglecting several other elements of the site’s upkeep. As far as they are concerned, the more tourists, the better. A disheartening example is the Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion: a world heritage site in Qufu, Shandong Province. After the department responsible for managing the site teamed up with a private firm, several of its ancient structures and murals were damaged to varying degrees when they were hosed down with water in the lead-up to an important celebration. At another world heritage site with dual cultural and natural significance, Mount Emei and Leshan Giant Buddha in Sichuan Province, a firm obtained the rights to operate a nearby scenic area for several decades. They then illegally constructed an imitation of the Bamiyan Giant Buddha (the real version of which was destroyed by the Taliban in 2001), which posed a great threat to both the Leshan Giant Buddha and the Mahao Cliff Tombs (which are listed by the government as a Major Historical and Cultural Site Protected at the National Level). Meanwhile, officials learned a difficult lesson when Yuzhen Palace, one of the ancient cultural buildings with world heritage status on Mount Wudang, was reduced to ashes as a result of gross negligence after it was rented out as a private martial arts school.

The legal system relating to the preservation and management of world cultural heritage is flawed; certain aspects lack corresponding laws, while many existing laws are not abided by. Currently, China does not have a specific set of laws and regulations pertaining to world cultural heritage sites. Although there are some relevant stipulations in the Law of the PRC on the Protection of Cultural Relics and its accompanying Code of Implementation, these documents do not cover many aspects of the preservation and management of world heritage. In February 2004, the General Office of the State Council issued a set of Suggestions Regarding the Reinforcement of World Cultural Heritage Preservation and Management in China to nine departments, including the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. As the first official document to be released by the central government on this subject, this set of suggestions provides a crucial policy basis for the preservation and management of world cultural heritage. However, it is difficult to determine the extent to which these documents are legally binding. Several other individual laws and regulations pertaining to the protection of cultural heritage are poorly coordinated and, at times, even contradictory. Whether it be in regard to the determination of preservation plans and standards; the provision of safety facilities; or the management of entry tickets and revenue, there is a distinct lack of clear regulations. Some world heritage sites don’t have individualized preservation regulations or plans; for instance, the World Heritage Council has passed motions for the last two years, stipulating that a buffering zone needs to be determined for the Forbidden City, and that cultural relics within the zone need to be protected more effectively.

The preservation and management of world cultural heritage sites are severely underfunded. This is due not only to a lack of investment, but also due to poor allocation of resources. Currently, there is no government fund specifically devoted to the preservation of world cultural heritage sites, and local treasuries invest only miserly sums into such initiatives. Of the 26 world heritage sites in China with cultural or dual cultural and natural significance, the vast majority receive over one million visits a year. Sites like the Forbidden City, the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, and Mount Emei-Leshan Giant Buddha each bring in over 100 million yuan a year in revenue, and the majority of heritage sites should be able to fund their own preservation and management using revenue from entry tickets alone. However, due to inappropriate allocation and use of revenue, aspects such as preservation, maintenance, research, management and fire safety are all underfunded. The main reasons for the lack of funding are as follows: (1) most heritage sites must hand over a percentage (generally 40–50 %, and sometimes as much as 80 %) of their revenue from entry tickets to relevant departments of the local government; (2) the organisms that manage world heritage sites are mostly responsible for their own financial expenditures and are often overstaffed; and (3) many heritage sites have accrued hundreds of millions of yuanin bank loans, some of which were used to fund poorly considered development initiatives, while others were the result of debt governance during the period of application for heritage status; (4) a certain portion of revenue from entry ticket sales is used for commercial development to the detriment of preservation and management.

The aforementioned questions have become the main factors that influence the promotion of world heritage preservation in China. If we wish to protect our cultural heritage, China must strive to uphold and promote the fundamental principles observed by the international community. These principles are primarily reflected in the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, as well as certain laws and regulations of the PRC. They can be summarized as follows: conservation above all else, collectivized conservation, authenticity, and completeness. Each one of these principles is the crystallization of the innovation and wisdom of forerunners in the field of heritage conservation, as well as important lessons from experiences in this field from the last few decades, both in China and abroad. We owe it to ourselves to study these principles, put them into practice, and expand on them as best we can.

The principle of conservation above all else. We must explicitly declare that cultural heritage sites with universal value are not to be sacrificed or damaged in the pursuit of short-term economic gains. This principle is in keeping with the conservation strategies outlined in the Law of the PRC on the Protection of Cultural Relics as well as the directives of the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Currently, our world-status cultural heritage is in increasingly grave danger of being destroyed. We need to wake up and realize that plundering our cultural resources to stimulate economic development is like draining a pond dry to collect all the fish. As soon as cultural relics or the social or natural environment on which they depend for survival are damaged, it is extremely difficult to effectively restore them, and their value will be permanently decreased. Therefore, it is only by adequately realizing the importance of protecting and managing world-status cultural heritage; by maintaining an appropriate balance between conservation and use; and by upholding conservation as the number one priority during day-to-day work that we can ensure the longevity of our precious patrimony.

The principle of collectivized conservation. We must emphasize that cultural landmarks are the shared heritage of all of society, and that each of us have a responsibility to take part in their conservation. The point of the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage is to establish an effective, sustainable system based on scientific methods to collectively protect natural and cultural heritage with outstanding universal value. The conservation of world-status cultural heritage is an essential condition to the long-term survival of human civilization; a great undertaking of lasting importance to society.

Therefore, the determination, conservation, exhibition and impartation of cultural heritage is primarily the responsibility of the government at all levels. They must incorporate the conservation of world-status cultural heritage into strategies for economic and social development; plans for rural and urban conservation; financial budgets; systemic reforms; as well as the code of conduct of leaders of differing status. Furthermore, through public service announcements and education, we must instil in the public an understanding, respect and support for the conservation of our shared patrimony.

The principle of authenticity. We must explicitly recognize that the primary objective in the conservation of cultural heritage is to safeguard all historical information encapsulated in relics and landmarks. The Venice Charter of 1964 and the Nara Document on Authenticity from 1994 are both indispensable resources that shed light on matters of authenticity in the field of cultural conservation. The newly amended Law of the PRC on the Protection of Cultural Relics also specifically stipulates that site managers must not alter the original state of immovable cultural relics when attempting to repair, maintain or relocate them. The authenticity of cultural heritage comprises not only appearance and design; materials and content; as well as structure and functions — it also includes traditions and skills; layouts and environments; spirit and emotions; as well as a range of internal and external factors. Therefore, we must strive to prevent illegal activities such as “the destruction of authentic cultural relics and construction of artificial ones” on world-status cultural heritage sites so as to preserve and showcase their original historical appearance and inherent values.


The principle of completeness. We must firmly establish that conservation zones for world-status cultural heritage sites must include an ample perimeter so as to ensure that they are not disturbed by human activity or resource exploitation. World-status heritage sites all arise and grow from specific cultural and natural environments; therefore, if we damage their surrounds, we are damaging the very foundation upon which they depend for survival. It is for this reason that we must not only devise plans for conserving cultural relics themselves and managing conservation zones; we must also strive to protect the organic links between these relics’ and various components of their surrounding cultural environment. This requires the determination of a buffering zone where construction is strictly controlled and limited; an integral conservation plan; as well as a set of specific laws and regulations. This will help guarantee that heritage is conserved in its entirety.

World-status cultural heritage sites are the crystallization of the culture and spirit of the Chinese people. They are precious, irreplaceable resources passed down to us by our ancestors. By conserving these sites, we are effectively ensuring the survival of Chinese civilization and our outstanding culture; boosting the cohesiveness and creativity of the Chinese people; and improving China’s image on the global stage. It is therefore of utmost importance that we carry out this task in a methodical and thorough manner.

1.1. Streamlining the system for conserving and managing world cultural heritage

First of all, China must strengthen the standardized management of its world-status cultural heritage sites. Through inter-ministerial conferences on the subject of the protection of cultural relics, we can resolve issues in the coordination and distribution of professional duties; encourage collaborations between sectors such as culture, construction, finance, national resources, forestry, religion and tourism; find solutions to serious problems in the conservation and management of world-status cultural heritage sites; and form a national coalition in the field of heritage conservation.

Second, China must put into play the management capabilities of its provincial heritage administrations. The provincial government where a given culture heritage site is situated should found specific institutions to coordinate the site’s conservation and management. The vast majority of China’s world-class cultural heritage sites are also classified by the federal government as “Major Historical and Cultural Sites Protected at the National Level”. Based on the principle that each department should be primarily responsible for a different aspect of conservation, the executive departments of provincial heritage administrations should, in keeping with the specific duties outlined in the Law of the PRC on the Protection of Cultural Relics, assume responsibility for directing the conservation of cultural heritage sites.

Third, we must put more senior administrative divisions in charge of our world-status cultural heritage sites. In order to improve the overall quality of heritage site management, the institutions responsible for managing cultural heritage sites should, in principle, be led by provincial or municipal governments — as opposed to the current situation, where some sites are managed by counties or rural localities, while a few are even split between multiple cities or cities. At the same time, we must also work to gradually improve the quality of management and prevent affairs from being presided over by too many leaders at once.

Fourth, world-status cultural heritage sites must not be run as commercial endeavours. The newly amended Law of the PRC on the Protection of Cultural Relics has already specifically stipulated that state-owned immovable cultural relics must not be transferred or mortgaged; while protected state-owned heritage sites upon which museums or archives have been erected, or which have been declared tourist attractions, must not be operated as commercial endeavours. Any world-status cultural heritage sites whose operating rights have already been transferred or mortgaged to an individual, collective or company to be run as a commercial operation are to be repossessed by the state within a prescribed time limit.

1.2. Accelerating the determination of regulations and systems for the conservation of world-status cultural heritage sites

First, we must accelerate the determination of a Set of Regulations for the Conservation and Management of World-Status Cultural Heritage. Legislation should be used as a means of specifying the legal status of world-status cultural heritage sites, the fundamental principles according to which they are to be protected, as well as the functions and responsibilities of the institutions that manage them. Any pre-existing laws and regulations whose content is incongruous with that of the Law of the PRC on the Protection of Cultural Relics or the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage should be promptly amended. Regional laws and regulations have already been proclaimed for some of China’s world-status cultural heritage sites, and have played an important role in standardizing and ensuring these sites’ conservation and management. Legislation work should be sped up as much as specific circumstances will allow for sites that have not yet been attributed a set of specific laws and regulations. So as to safeguard the conservation and management of world-status cultural heritage sites, these regional laws and regulations should specify requirements, standards, objectives and legal liabilities, as well as incorporating methods that have proven to be effective in recent years.

Second, we must waste no time in devising conservation plans for China’s world-status cultural heritage sites. Plans have already been determined for the vast majority of these sites. However, integral conservation plans are urgently required for sites that span multiple jurisdictions (whether provinces, autonomous regions, or directly administered cities), such as the Great Wall and the Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Plans should specify the scope of the conservation zone; measures and objectives for conservation; as well as an appropriately sized buffering zone. Currently, plans for the conservation of world-status cultural heritage zones are generally examined and approved by local governments; from now on, in the interests of rendering these plans more authoritative, they should instead be examined by agencies directly subordinate to the State Council presiding over cultural heritage, and passed at national inter-ministerial conferences. Plans that have been approved according to this procedure constitute the laws and regulations according to which a given world-status heritage site must be rigorously managed and protected. Any amendments to these plans must be carried out in accordance with relevant laws. Within the conservation and buffering zones, it is forbidden to construct new buildings and demolish old ones at random.

Third, we must develop a network of expert consultants in the field of cultural heritage preservation. The Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage specifically appointed the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) as the World Heritage Council’s official consultancies. Together, they have provided the Council with scientific, objective and just advice regarding the protection of cultural patrimony. China must draw lessons from precedents set by the international community by founding a council of expert consultants who are qualified in a number of academic disciplines, who perform their duties in strict accordance with the law, and who have a strong sense of integrity. Appropriate codes of conduct and disciplinary measures should also be put in place. The consultants’ expertise should be put into play to the greatest degree possible;important decisions pertaining to application for world heritage status as well as the supervision, protection, management and use of cultural heritage sites should all be made on the basis of sound arguments.

Fourth, we must establish a system for monitoring the conservation of China’s world cultural heritage. Monitoring in this context means conducting thorough evaluations of world heritage sites, either periodically or at random intervals, and providing detailed reports based on internationally approved principles of cultural heritage conservation. The administrative agencies of the State Council responsible for cultural relics (such as the State Administration of Cultural Heritage) and the council of expert consultants should elect members to form a monitoring group. This group should regularly evaluate the protection and management of world cultural heritage sites as well as the implementation of laws and regulations. Any potential or on-going problems discovered during evaluations should be rigorously analyzed and promptly resolved. Where breaches of laws or regulations have taken place — in particular, acts of gross negligence or corruption that have led to the destruction of cultural relics — legal responsibility must be ascertained and the heritage site in question should be placed under strict surveillance.

1.3. Improving the quality of world cultural heritage conservation and management

First of all, the protection of world cultural heritage should incorporate the latest technological advancements. Technology is the one of the greatest driving factors in the evolution of heritage conservation; it can be applied to a variety of aspects, including archeology, restoration, exhibitions, environmental conservation, fire and theft security, as well as data-driven management. Currently, the technology used on China’s world cultural heritage sites is not very advanced, while our methods of conservation, monitoring and management pale in comparison to international standards. We need to appreciate that making use of cutting edge technology is a crucial step to improving the management and conservation of cultural heritage. China should develop a world cultural heritage management database and surveillance system with real-time updates and in-built early warnings. This would not only provide accurate, detailed information upon which to base important decisions — it would also create data records that would be useful for research, as well as serving as a resource that informs the public and allows them to make better travel plans.

Second, we must develop training and accreditation programs for staff involved in the conservation and management of world cultural heritage. In global strategies for world heritage conservation, capacity building has always been made a priority; it serves a more important purpose than both funds and technology. The preservation of cultural patrimony requires conservationists and managers who have noble ambitions, an understanding of scientific principles, and a dedication to their field. These staff members require a sound professional background, relevant legal knowledge and a capacity for scientific research. In response to the overall low qualifications of employees and current lack of experts within this field, we need to make on-the-job training more rigorous and ensure that experts account for at least 40 % of all staff by gradually putting into place promotions as an incentive for higher accreditation. The leaders of agencies responsible for managing and protecting world heritage sites should receive systematic training and obtain qualification certificates from the agencies of the State Council responsible for the administration of cultural relics. Faculties in world cultural heritage education should be founded at relevant universities and scientific research institutes. The training of current employees and implementation of an accreditation system should ideally be completed within three to four years.

Third, we must implement a franchise permit system for world cultural heritage sites. As world cultural heritage is an exceedingly rare resource, any commercial endeavours within conservation zones must be specially authorized by the government, while any revenue from the transferral of operating rights should be reinvested in heritage conservation. On one hand, this can effectively limit the number and scale of commercial endeavours in conservation zones, thus preventing damage that careless commercial development causes to the natural and cultural environments upon which heritage sites depend for survival; on the other hand, by reinvesting revenue from the transferral of operating rights into conservation, we can help resolve the lack of funding addressed above.

Fourth, we must increase other sources of investment into the conservation of world cultural heritage. The central and local governments should establish specific funds for heritage conservation. At the same time, these funds can be effectively supplemented by attracting nongovernmental investments through a variety of channels. One potential means of encouraging nongovernmental investment in heritage conservation is the determination of preferential policies such as tax exemptions. Revenue from ticket sales at world cultural heritage sites should be submitted to the treasury and entirely reinvested in these sites’ conservation and management. Franchises on world cultural heritage sites, such as stores, hotels and restaurants, should contribute a fixed percentage of profit to conservation. Agencies responsible for managing world cultural heritage sites must rigorously examine all employment frameworks and budgets.

1.4. Increasing public awareness and understanding of heritage conservation

First of all, we must familiarize the public with the notions and principles of world cultural heritage conservation. The protection of our cultural patrimony must occur on the basis of an increase in the civility of Chinese society as a whole. After all, world cultural heritage is the shared asset of human civilization — its protection requires the support and participations of all citizens. Therefore, increasing public awareness and understanding is of the utmost importance. In particular, we should harness resources from a number of sectors in order to develop a more widespread, lasting awareness campaign. In addition to disseminating general knowledge about world cultural heritage, the focus of this campaign should be placed on instilling the public with an appreciation for the importance of heritage conservation. We should make ample use of new and traditional media (including newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and internet) in order to allow the public to realize the underlying value of world cultural heritage on the development of civilization. Through public awareness, we can create an atmosphere in which all members of society care for heritage conservation and feel encouraged to do their part.


XII, 564
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (August)
The Cultural Heritage Conservation Experience in China: The Critical Decade Shan Jixiang Cultural Heritage Protection Cultural Scenery Archaeological Heritage Ancient City Preservation Eco-museum Archaeological Heritage Park Cultural Diversity Architectural Heritage
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, Oxford, 2023. XII, 564 pp.

Biographical notes

Jixiang Shan (Author)

This book summarizes China’s ten-year experience of cultural heritage protection by providing case analysis of both successful and unsatisfying practices. It is written with an academic perspective and based on the author’s real practice. The first part highlights the cultural distinction in urban planning; the second part analyzes the cultural heritage protection concept and practice in China’s urbanization; the third part focuses on China’s museums in a revolutionary era. The book records the development stages of China’s cultural heritage protection theory and practice and shows the challenges in the new era. It answers questions such as how to protect historic community and villages, how to protect the heritage site and build heritage parks, and what is the role of museums regarding social responsibility and people’s well-being. Cultural heritage and museum planning are closely linked to the economy, urban life, and local memory. China’s experience in the past decade is also meaningful to cultural protection courses on an international level.


Title: The Cultural Heritage Conservation Experience in China
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
578 pages