FAN JINSHI is the director emerita of the Dunhuang Academy. For over five decades she has dedicated herself to the archaeological study, conservation, and management of the grottoes of Dunhuang. She was appointed deputy director of the Dunhuang Academy in 1984, executive deputy director in 1993, and director in 1998. She compiled and edited the twenty-six-volume Complete Collection of Dunhuang Grottoes and has authored more than a dozen publications and papers on the grottoes of Dunhuang.
ZHENG JUN is director of the secretariat of ICOMOS China. Prior to joining the secretariat, he participated in a number of conservation projects in China, including the joint Dunhuang Academy–Getty Conservation Institute project for conservation of Cave 85 at the Mogao Grottoes. He has also been active in the revision of the Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China.
LU ZHOU is professor of conservation and the director of the National Heritage Center of Tsinghua University. A vice president of ICOMOS China, he received the 2013 ICCROM Award in recognition of his contributions to cultural heritage conservation in China, where he has overseen numerous cultural heritage projects. He was instrumental in the development of the revised version of the Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China.
They were asked by JEFFREY LEVIN, editor of Conservation Perspectives, The GCI Newsletter, to address a number of questions about conservation in China.
JEFFREY LEVINWhat are the major issues China faces regarding the conservation and preservation of its cultural heritage?
FAN JINSHIMany people do not have sufficient respect for cultural heritage, do not understand its value and significance, and do not appreciate the importance of its conservation. There is also a lack of awareness of the laws protecting heritage, and these laws are not fully implemented. As a result, heritage can be improperly administered. Since China's reform and opening to the West, the nation has experienced rapid economic development and urbanization, which pose severe challenges to and pressure on cultural heritage. Some heritage has been damaged, and some has even disappeared. There is a great deal of commercialization and urbanization around heritage sites, and if these locations are managed by commercial enterprises, there can be predatory operations and overexploitation, creating even more problems for their conservation.
ZHENG JUNThe two most challenging and pressing issues are building a corps of trained professionals and mass tourism. The growth of the professional conservation community has fallen behind the rapid increase in the demand and investment for heritage conservation and management. In the past fifteen years, the number of registered heritage sites increased from around 30,000 to over 766,000, while state priority protected sites grew from 750 to nearly 4,300. Some of these sites are huge. The Great Wall is over 21,000 kilometers long, while the Grand Canal runs through eight provinces. The larger the site, the more demand for conservation and management. In addition, conservation work has multiplied. In the past, conservation focused on structural stabilization and environmental improvement. Now, conservation planning, safety and security installations, disaster preventive measures, monitoring, and interpretation and presentation are essential parts of conservation. Keeping pace with this demand is the growth of government investment in heritage conservation. In the past five years, government funding was 140 billion RMB or around 20 billion USD. In contrast to these increases is the slow growth of the conservation and management community. By the end of 2015, conservation institutions and companies qualified to work at state priority protected sites were just over 200, while individuals qualified to manage conservation projects at these sites were fewer than 3,600. Capacity building is the most pressing issue for the next decade or so.
With mass tourism, the gap between the demand and the limited carrying capacity of heritage sites is increasing. In the past fifteen years, the number of tourists in China went from under a billion to over four billion. At the same time the number of state priority protected sites—the highest level of designation—has grown significantly. Most of these sites, however, were already open to visitors prior to entering the national list, and thus the total carrying capacity of heritage sites has not actually increased. Along with adopting sustainable development and striving for quality in the visiting experience, more and more site managers have taken strict control of visitor numbers, as at Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Many site managers have explored ways to increase carrying capacity—for example, by opening more space at the Palace Museum in Beijing or increasing the flow rate at the Mogao Grottoes. While these efforts offer improvements, they cannot fundamentally change the situation. Given that some sites have too many visitors while some have too few, solving this problem may depend greatly on regional government planning.
LU ZHOUAn understanding of heritage value is a key issue. Before 2000 art and history were considered the main values of heritage. For these values, heritage is testimony to artistic development and historic events, and conservation meant maintaining material authenticity. With increased economic development, people now pay more attention to protecting vernacular architectural heritage and historic areas. In some instances, local authorities have relocated local people and transformed the function of their homes from residential to commercial for tourism purposes, resulting in a loss of local culture and tradition. With the international movement to safeguard cultural diversity, the value of both tangible and intangible heritage is emphasized. The understanding of cultural value is an important step in improving China's heritage conservation and management. Although there is still a lot of debate regarding the cultural and social value of heritage, this broader understanding has affected conservation and management practice in China.
LEVINWhat has been the impact of development on the country's archaeology, both buried and exposed?
LUProtecting archaeological sites—especially sites of ancient cities such as Xi'an, which are large-scale archaeological sites—is an important issue. During the process of urbanization, undeveloped land is one of the most valuable resources for cities. The pressure of urbanization creates a great need for the protection of archaeological sites. Since 2012 the establishment and development of archaeological parks has been the way to address this. Showing the social value of archaeological sites becomes a powerful tool for their protection. Creating archaeological parks is a way to reduce development pressures and is welcomed by local authorities and residents.
ZHENGDevelopment in China has had three major impacts on archaeology. First, major national infrastructure construction projects—such as the Three Gorges Dam Project, the South-North Water Diversion Project, and the West to the East Gas Transmission Project—have led to many rescue campaigns. With the Three Gorges Dam Project, thousands of archaeologists investigated the flood area. More than 700 conservation projects for sites to be submerged rescued over 250,000 objects. Some projects resulted in technological advancement. For example, the Baiheliang Underwater Museum—a rock at the bottom of the Yangtze River on which hydrological records of over twelve centuries were cut—was protected in situ, maintaining its authenticity of location and its visibility as well. The lifting of the Yuzhen Palace at Wudang Mountain, which would have been submerged by the South-North Water Diversion Project, was another successful effort to save a site. Second, a large number of important archaeological sites have been discovered during the legally required investigations associated with construction work. The Jinsha Site of the ancient Shu State was discovered during such an event in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. The original construction project was relocated to allow construction of an on-site museum to protect the discovery. Third, the protection of large-scale archaeological sites and construction of national archaeological parks have made these places more understandable and accessible to the public and have brought economic benefits to local communities, offering employment, tourism income, improved environmental quality, and increased land value.
FANBoth the investigation of buried archaeological sites and research on exposed archaeology have benefited from recent developments in techniques and equipment for conservation. The application of surveying technology for spatial information has made clear the scope of buried heritage and provided relatively accurate, comprehensive, and visual information about their settings. The use of monitoring and analysis methods involving a variety of technological measures has made it possible to extract and preserve information from unexcavated sites. These developments have deepened our understanding and research of archaeological sites.
LEVINHow well is authenticity being preserved with respect to China's built heritage?
FANThe preservation of the authenticity of cultural heritage varies considerably in different sites. It is possible that only a few cultural heritage sites are managed strictly according to the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics and the World Heritage Convention. Improper development and use of cultural heritage under the management of local governments will affect preservation of a site's authenticity and make it difficult to preserve.
ZHENGIn general, the authenticity of the state priority protected sites has been well preserved, thanks to the national policy throughout recent history. As early as 1932, Liang Sicheng, the pioneer of Chinese heritage conservation, held that the best way to protect a historic building was to preserve it in its "current condition," which can be understood as the earliest principle of protecting authenticity in China. This idea was elaborated upon in national policy papers in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1982, when the first Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics was issued, the principle of maintaining the historic condition of heritage sites—retaining the authenticity of a site—was prescribed. Because the term "historic condition" leaves room for different interpretations, the first version of the Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China—the China Principles, issued in 2000 by ICOMOS China, and approved by China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH)—made this explicit. This clarified the long debate on "historic condition" and was fully adopted in the revised version of the China Principles. Conservation practice in China has been guided by these principles through a long-established professional consultation system, in which retaining authenticity has been essential for assessing conservation plans, project design, implementation, and acceptance. Along with recent developments in conservation theory, not only is the authenticity of physical remains now conserved, but also that of intangible aspects—the authenticity of use, function, spirit, and traditions is also retained.
LUBuilt heritage can be divided into two parts: monuments and living heritage. For monuments, as a testimony of human creativity and history, the main values are artistic and historic. The material authenticity is the most important thing for this heritage. If the material authenticity is lost, the monument loses its value as testimony. With living heritage, it is still in the process of creating its values. Its authenticity lies in its cultural spirit and character. Living heritage is connected with a living cultural context, and its main values are cultural and social. What is important to maintain is the cultural tradition.
LEVINWhat degree of awareness and support among the public is there for the preservation of cultural heritage?
LUThe public includes a wide and complex set of groups, and the degree of awareness of the value of cultural heritage varies from group to group. Generally, people understand the value of cultural heritage and see the need to protect it, at least in a theoretical sense.
FANEven without a general survey, it can be judged that the awareness and support among the public for the preservation of cultural heritage has greatly increased. We have seen that in visitor surveys we have done at the Mogao Grottoes and in comments in the media and on the Internet.
ZHENGWhile there is no statistic on this, in my experience public awareness and support for heritage conservation have increased. In recent years I have seen many volunteer groups formed to protect heritage sites. Ai Ta Legend is a group of architects that organizes trips to villages in Shanxi Province—the province with the most historic buildings preserved—to document buildings and to assess their state of conservation, with reports given to the local government. On Gulangyu Island in Fujian Province there is a volunteer group of residents that seeks to raise awareness among other residents of heritage value and of the necessity for conservation. In the World Heritage nomination process for the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces in Yunnan Province, local people were enthusiastic. Surveys showed that they not only saw World Heritage status bringing them economic benefit, but, more importantly, they were proud that their heritage was recognized by the international community as having values comparable to the Great Wall in China and the pyramids in Egypt. Similarly, during the process of listing the seventh batch of national priority protected sites, many people from Zhejiang Province came forward to nominate their home village. Two decades earlier, the attitude in the region was the reverse. This change is due partly to promotion by the government and partly to the efforts of NGOs and the media. Starting in 2006 the second Saturday of June was officially declared National Cultural Heritage Day by the State Council. ICOMOS China has been promoting the International Day on Monuments and Sites on April 18 every year, while ICOM China does the same for International Museum Day on May 18. Using heritage as a driver for sustainable development, World Heritage nominations also contribute to raising awareness and gaining public support.
LEVINWhat is the significance of the evolution of heritage categories in China?
LUThe World Heritage List greatly influenced the evolution of heritage categories in China. From 2006 to 2012 the Chinese government organized the cultural heritage Wuxi Forum, which focused on new categories of cultural heritage, such as cultural landscapes, cultural routes, twentieth-century built heritage, vernacular heritage, and industrial heritage. These heritage categories help people better understand the value of heritage and emphasize the connection of cultural heritage to its natural setting. For example, the 2009 nomination of Mount Wutai as a World Heritage Site emphasized its value as a holy mountain for Buddhism and the continuity of Buddhist beliefs. West Lake and Honghe Hani Rice Terraces emphasized the impact of culture on nature. Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor, which includes twenty-two sites in China, emphasized cultural exchange and development. The evolution of heritage categories not only improves understanding of heritage value but also enhances the management system, building cooperation between different local governments and all stakeholders. It also expands the boundaries of heritage to more closely connect heritage preservation to sustainable development.
FANThe evolution of heritage categories has been very important. It can deepen the investigation, research, and conservation of different kinds of cultural heritage and further promote the preservation of each subcategory of similar cultural heritage. Classifying cultural heritage into different categories is a more scientific approach that can improve heritage management and gradually upgrade conservation work.
ZHENGOne can see the evolution of categories of cultural heritage in China in the seven batches of state priority protected sites listed by the State Council since 1961. In the first batch were the most renowned sites in China. In 1982 sites of scientific interest, such as Dujiangyan—a still-functioning irrigation system that transformed Chengdu Basin into one of the richest agricultural lands in China two millennia ago—were listed. In 1988 Lingqu Canal was the first canal to be listed. In 1996 the first oil well in China was listed as the first industrial heritage site of the modern era. Also, shared built heritage such as the Bund in Shanghai and Shamian Island in Guangzhou were listed. In 2001 the first nuclear weapon research base was listed. In 2013 Honghe Hani Rice Terraces—a cultural landscape—were listed. The significance of this evolution is multifaceted. Perhaps the biggest impact is in conservation and management, which can be summarized as follows: Heritage sites are no longer seen solely as examples of the past and used by experts for reconstructing the past. Instead, they are perceived as a resource that can be sustainably used to benefit current and future generations. Conservation and management are no longer run by SACH alone, but by SACH jointly with other governmental sectors and the public. There is a shift from conserving important sites to conserving historic environments to provide society with a sense of continuity and stability in rapidly changing times. There is also a shift from the single site management approach to a serial site management approach.
LEVINHow well have cultural heritage managers at sites with both natural and built heritage handled their roles?
FANThese cultural heritage managers have handled their roles very differently. Generally speaking, the managers are not well educated, and their management skills are not sufficient.
LUThe new categories of heritage, such as cultural landscapes, demand that heritage site managers have the knowledge and skill to protect both cultural and natural heritage. In China generally, people in the cultural heritage field have a different educational background than professionals in the field of nature heritage management. Capacity building is needed. Also needed is greater cooperation between the different government bodies that are in charge of cultural and natural heritage.
ZHENGThere are three major types of heritage sites that have both cultural and natural elements: historic gardens, scenic spots, and cultural landscapes in the World Heritage context. For the first two, their function, defined in 1951, was to provide leisure and enjoyment for people. Their historic value had not been fully recognized, and many historic gardens now look like public playgrounds. At these sites, the managers need to reassess the site's values to reflect their historic value. For cultural landscapes, a concept that was introduced with World Heritage listings, the multifaceted values of these sites have been better articulated.
LEVINWhat are the current challenges for site managers—and what challenges will they face in the future?
LUTo improve the management of heritage sites, the staff is always key. So their training and morale are the most important things. Sufficient financial support for their work, as well as increasing their income and training, can help. The impact of raising community support is just now being felt in China.
FANThe conservation and management of heritage sites is seriously underfunded. The Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics specifies that revenue from each heritage site should be devoted to its conservation and management. However, the funds for most heritage sites, especially those managed by county-level governments, are not guaranteed. At many heritage sites, especially the county-level ones, insufficient attention is paid to staff training, thus a chance is lost to improve staff conservation capability and management capability. Because of ideology and local financial problems, local governments usually pay more attention to the use and development of heritage sites than to their conservation and management. The problem of uneven tourism at different cultural heritage sites remains unsolved, with an adverse effect on both conservation and tourism. It is complicated to deal with this issue, and it won't be solved if great efforts are not made to understand the problem and carry out comprehensive research on how to manage it.
ZHENGThe two major challenges for site managers are capacity building and funding daily maintenance. The majority of protected sites in China have limited staff resources. While they are not required to undertake major conservation intervention at their sites, they should be able to carry out adequate maintenance and monitoring and report significant problems to authorities in a timely manner. To do so, the staff needs substantial training, which is not the situation at most sites. Lack of funds for daily maintenance has been a problem for a long time. With the country's strong economic development, funding for major conservation interventions is often easy to obtain. However, funds for daily maintenance are not included in government budgeting for conservation, and therefore these funds have to be raised by site managers. For sites without many alternative incomes other than government investment, this is a serious challenge for site managers. Still, I do believe that in the future more money will be put into heritage conservation, capacity building will improve, more public support will be gained, and the impact of tourism will be better managed with a more balanced distribution of visitor loads.
LEVINWhere do you see the preservation of cultural heritage in China in fifty years? China has always been aware of its own importance as a nation, but will this sensibility be strong enough to help preserve the country's rich cultural heritage?
FANGenerally speaking, central government leaders in China have always attached great importance to the conservation of cultural heritage. Laws and regulations for the conservation of cultural heritage have been prepared and promulgated, including the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics, and administrative offices from central to local levels for cultural heritage management have been established. Lists of cultural heritage at different levels—national, provincial, municipal, and county—have been confirmed and issued, and administration measures for cultural heritage have been developed and implemented. During the past twenty years, administrative institutions in charge of heritage sites have developed conservation management plans, and a lot of rescue work, stabilization, and restoration of heritage has been done. To further improve preventive conservation and reduce risk, modern technologies have been used to guard, monitor, and analyze heritage. Scientific conservation research has been carried out, and conservation training is underway. In today's China, many have recognized that we need cultural as well as economic and social development. Today, more and more Chinese are concerned about the cultural heritage, but it will take some time for the necessary changes to occur.
ZHENGOver the next fifty years, heritage conservation will become increasingly important in China. As a result of continuous efforts of the Chinese government and NGOs to promote heritage conservation, awareness and support from the public will improve, and public participation will be broader. At the same time, along with social development, public demands regarding culture will rise. Younger generations are growing up in a more cultural environment. In schools, more emphasis is put on teaching classical texts, cultural traditions, and old rituals. More museums and heritage sites are doing better at interpreting culture for children. These generations will be more interested in cultural heritage and thus pay more attention to its conservation than did their parents. The cultural industry boom is a boost to heritage conservation, with more money put into conservation by the cultural industry sector.
LUPreservation has become more important in China. Before 2000 it was primarily a government duty and a technical effort. Now it is considered an important social issue. Before 2000 most people thought of preservation as dealing with ancient things, but more people today understand that preservation is important for the quality of life and for improving the living conditions of common people. More and more people are participating in the preservation of heritage.
In China, heritage preservation has proceeded in two parallel directions. One is conservation of monuments—important historic buildings—to protect the testimony of history. The other is the protection of cultural diversity, including local and national diversity. There are fifty-six nationalities in China, and the protection of cultural diversity is now national policy. Since the 1990s protection of the vernacular heritage of many nationalities has been undertaken. In 1994 the Historic Ensemble of Potala Palace was inscribed as World Heritage. Following that, the Old Town of Lijiang, Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, and Tusi Sites have been listed as World Heritage. Also on tentative lists for World Heritage are the Ancient Tea Plantations of Jingmai Mountain in Pu'er, Dali Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake Scenic Spot, Diaolou Buildings and Villages for Tibetan and Qiang Ethnic Groups, Dong Villages, Fenghuang Ancient City, and Miao Nationality Villages in Southeast Guizhou Province. In 1998 cooperation between the Chinese and Norwegian governments initiated a project to build an eco park in Guizhou Province to protect local culture.
LEVINThe China Principles have just been revised, and new categories of heritage have been added. What is the potential impact of the revised version on site conservation and management?
FANThe revised edition was very necessary. It adjusts chapters of the original 2000 edition and adds a chapter on use of heritage sites. Such adjustments accord with the present state of cultural heritage work and the challenges facing heritage sites in China. These adjustments are necessary for changing the previous practice of valuing use more than management and for enhancing the management of sites, and they highlight that management is important for improving cultural heritage preservation efforts in the future. In short, the revised Principles for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China improved and deepened the content of the original.
ZHENGThree types of heritage sites were added in the revised China Principles: cultural landscapes, cultural routes, and heritage canals. All are serial sites, meaning that their value is larger than the sum of all their component parts, and that damage to any individual part threatens the whole. This has impact on three areas. First, individual sites should be placed under an overall framework for their conservation, management, and interpretation, with an emphasis on their contribution to the value of the entire site. This requires the establishment of an overall management mechanism, conservation planning for the entire site, and coordinated actions among all individual sites. Second, the level of conservation of individual sites should be maintained to a relatively constant standard to ensure that no site is left in poor condition. This requires regular staff training and exchange among individual sites. Third, interaction between governmental sectors and the public is essential, as these sites often have a broad spectrum of stakeholders.
In addition to these impacts, each category has its own requirements. Cultural landscapes reflect interaction between humans and nature, and therefore the natural element of a heritage site should not be treated simply as setting, but as an integral part. A good example is the Ming Tombs site outside Beijing. It is the special feng shui of this particular area that prompted the Ming emperors to choose it as the royal burial place to prolong the dynasty. Daminglu—The Law of the Great Ming Empire—was issued to protect the feng shui of the royal tombs accordingly. Such feng shui is an integral part of the site and deserves the same level of protection as the tombs. Some cultural landscapes are the product of intangible heritage, and their conservation is dependent on sustaining it. The beautiful landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces is the product of local farming. As long as this way of farming is maintained, the landscape will be there. As for cultural routes, they reflect not just an exchange of goods, but, more importantly, interaction among cultures. The key is to conserve the physical remains while telling the story of cultural exchange along the route. And heritage canals typically demonstrate historical technological and engineering achievements, as well as cultural exchanges.
LUThe revised China Principles are based on the practice of Chinese cultural heritage conservation, especially after 2000. The addition of new categories of cultural heritage is key to promoting the development of cultural heritage conservation in China and is considered a transition from "cultural relics" to "cultural heritage." The first China Principles were based on the challenges of the 1990s, focusing on built heritage and archaeological sites. They connected Chinese conservation to international practice. Since 2000 the national conservation budget has increased tremendously, and many important conservation projects have begun. Chinese practice after 2000 contributed to the China Principles revision: conservation and management master planning benefits the discussion of heritage value, authenticity, and integrity; built heritage conservation benefits the discussion of authenticity; conservation of archaeological sites benefits discussion of setting and interpretation; conservation of cultural landscape and vernacular heritage benefits discussion of integrity of immovable heritage and cultural tradition as well as the methodology of safeguarding living heritage; conservation of industrial heritage and modern architectural heritage benefits discussion of reuse; and conservation of architectural painting and wall painting benefits discussion of technology and material. The revised 2015 China Principles are a summary of current Chinese conservation practice and an important guide for conservation and management going forward.