Application of the China Principles

The application phase of the project is designed to put the Principles into practice at cultural heritage sites in China. Two World Heritage sites whose site managers had been involved in the development of the China Principles, the Mogao Grottoes and the Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort and Outlying Temples, were chosen. This phase has involved collaboration with site managers and staff to develop general master plans for these sites, and demonstrate the use and application of the master plans by collaboratively implementing one or more of their action plans.

Mogao Grottoes (1999–present)

Work at the Mogao Grottoes, in Gansu Province, began in 1999 with the development of the Mogao Grottoes Conservation and Management Plan ("master plan"), incorporating the ideas and procedural approach espoused in the Principles. Currently, the master plan is being finalized and undergoing approval by provincial and national authorities. When approved, the master plan will have the force of law. The GCI will publish a bilingual version for international dissemination.

Components of the master plan have been selected for further development by the GCI and DEH in collaboration with the DA. These are an action plan for visitor management and a visitor carrying capacity study for the site. Given the reality of growing visitor numbers and pressure to encourage tourism, there is a need to develop a comprehensive strategy for managing visitors and interpreting the site, which include considerations for an orientation center and other visitor services, use of lighting in the caves to enhance visitor experience, a reservation system to reduce crowding, vehicle parking, and routing of visitors.

conservation image

Central to the visitor management plan is establishing the carrying capacity for the site. The methodology being used at Mogao is loosely based on a model developed by the U.S. National Park Service, known as Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP). Visitor carrying capacity is defined as the maximum number of people who can use the site on a daily basis without any alteration to the wall paintings and sculpture; without unacceptable change to or obstruction of the setting and natural environment; and while ensuring safety and the quality of the visitor experience. While limited change is acceptable in renewable natural resources, since good management can reverse any negative effects, damage to cultural resources is cumulative and irreversible, and therefore, no degree of change is acceptable. Thus, while aspects such as management capabilities, quality of the visitor experience, and impact of facilities development on the landscape will all be considered in determining carrying capacity for the site as a whole, it is the cultural resource (the grottoes themselves) that will set the ceiling for visitation numbers within the Grotto Zone.

The study is currently focused on establishing the carrying capacity for the grottoes, specifically on identifying the link between visitation of the caves and resulting environmental changes that may cause deterioration of the wall paintings. This has involved:

conservation image

Investigations and analyses of deterioration processes: The premise of analytical work (the result of more than a decade of work at Mogao) is that most deterioration in the wall paintings is due to the presence of salts and fluctuations in RH. The focus of the analytical investigations, therefore, has been on identifying salt species and the deliquescence RH in the caves. Additionally, using coupons that simulate the wall paintings, an index of deterioration has been created to assist with long term monitoring in the caves.

Environmental monitoring: Environmental monitoring is the core of the methodology being employed to establish visitation numbers in the caves and is being undertaken in four test caves. The objective is to determine the impact of visitors or visitations (an important distinction) on the environment of the caves. Environmental monitoring has involved: monitoring the exterior and the interior climate of the test caves; installing infrared beam counters to record the number of visitors; experiments to understand the effects of visitors on the microenvironment of the caves conducted with varying size groups of visitors; and experiments to determine air exchange rates with the exterior when visitors enter.

conservation image

Deterioration monitoring: Linking environmental monitoring with deterioration in the caves is a long-term endeavor. Methods of monitoring deterioration have been established and are being followed in the test caves. These include regular photographic monitoring of selected areas of active deterioration in the test caves, and the use of salt-laden coupons for comparison with the reference set of lab coupons.

Categorization of caves: The purpose of categorizing all 492 caves with wall paintings is to identify those undergoing active deterioration and, therefore, potentially vulnerable to accelerated deterioration from visitation, and to determine which of the caves can be opened to visitation as a function of their condition, significance, size, and potential interest to visitors.

The findings will be used to determine carrying capacity for the grottoes, inform management decisions designed to prevent degradation of the wall paintings, and ultimately will become part of a long-term management and monitoring tool for visitation to the site.

Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort and Outlying Temples (2001–present)

conservation image

In the fall of 2001, a project feasibility assessment began at the Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort and Outlying Temples, 250 kilometers to the north of Beijing. Since then, work has been undertaken on the development of a master plan for the site, following the China Principles, and further development of two components. One of these is a visitor management plan that deals with issues related to appropriate use of the enormous site, which is the focus of the DEH. The second component, led by the GCI, is development of a collaborative conservation project at one of the Outlying Temples, Shuxiang Temple, to provide a model for the systematic approach to the conservation of Qing dynasty imperial architecture. To date, the Shuxiang Temple project has involved:

  • Compilation of background information and historic photographs and surveying of the site to produce a new CAD site plan.
  • A thorough assessment of the physical condition of the site, its significance, and management context to serve as the basis for decision-making for the future of the temple.
  • Research and analytical investigations into the original materials and techniques of construction and decoration of Shuxiang Temple, particularly the extant architectural decorative painting (caihua).
  • A workshop with experts from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, the Hebei Cultural Heritage Bureau, the Palace Museum, and the Chinese National Institute of Cultural Property to review the assessment report and the options for the temple's future conservation and use.
  • The development of a concept plan for the conservation and use of the temple based on the results of the workshop.
  • Training of Chengde staff in documentation methods, including site surveying and production of measured site plans, and the use of CAD software.
conservation image

The concept plan will require approval at the provincial and national level before it can be developed as a detailed implementation plan.

Last updated: November 2006


video button