At the height of the Qing Empire, the Mountain Resort at Chengde, northeast of Beijing, was effectively the alternate capital of China. Founded in 1703 by the Kangxi emperor, its apogee was under his grandson, Qianlong (r. 1736–95). This enormous site, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1994, comprises a palace area, gardens, pagodas, pavilions, lakes, landscapes, and, originally, twelve temples outside the resort walls, eight of which survive today.
Among the surviving temples is Shuxiang, the family temple of the Qianlong emperor. In 2002, the GCI in collaboration with the Chengde and Hebei Cultural Heritage Bureaus, under the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), began conservation planning for this temple following the China Principles, as presented in Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China. Shuxiang Temple was chosen for application of the Principles because it posed particular preservation challenges.
The surviving buildings retain considerable historic fabric, sculpture, and furniture dating both from the original construction in 1774 and from the beginning of the nineteenth century, when repainting was undertaken. At Chengde, as elsewhere in China, restoration of Qing architecture has been the norm for decades. Based on a multiyear comprehensive research and assessment process, a decision was made by the partners to conserve the increasingly rare Qing imperial building fabric that has survived in Shuxiang Temple. A concept plan was developed for conservation and stabilization treatments to protect wood, painted architectural decoration, and ruined structures, and extensive research and testing were undertaken.
Beginning in 2013, following the development of detailed specifications, implementation by the Hebei and Chengde Heritage Bureaus and the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage (funded by SACH) was begun and is now largely completed. The work has generally followed the minimal intervention concept agreed upon for conservation of historic fabric, with respect to extant buildings, painted architectural decoration, and ruins of subsidiary buildings. The project now provides a comprehensive case study of a systematic approach to the conservation of Qing dynasty imperial architecture.