Application of the China Principles at Chengde

In 2001, application of the China Principles began at the Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort and Outlying Temples in collaboration with the Chengde Cultural Heritage Bureau and the Hebei Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau, with technical assistance from the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage (CACH), under the auspices of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

As at the Mogao Grottoes, initial work was aimed at developing a master plan for the site, followed by further development of two components: visitor management and conservation of traditional architecture. The Australian Department of the Environment and Heritage (formerly Australian Heritage Commission) collaborated in the development of the master plan and led the visitor management planning component.

Architectural Conservation
The architectural conservation component, led by the GCI and focused on Shuxiang Temple, was intended to provide a model for decision-making and a systematic approach to conservation of Qing dynasty imperial architecture. Erected in 1774 by the Qianlong Emperor, Shuxiang Temple is one of the original 12 outlying Buddhist temples at Chengde. The temple was dedicated to Manjusri, the spiritual patron of the Qianlong emperor, and was constructed in a uniquely Chinese style, unlike many of the other temples at Chengde that incorporate Tibetan and Mongolian construction techniques and decorative elements. The complex has intact original architecture and decoration as well as numerous ruined structures.

As one of the only temples at Chengde that retains substantial, unrestored original fabric, Shuxiang Temple was ideal for developing a model for Qing architecture. The traditional approach to treating Qing architectural painting on wooden buildings in China has been to restore (repaint) rather than to conserve in their historic condition. Though this practice is changing, with conservation now more favorably viewed, the decision to conserve or restore architectural paintings remains problematic. There was no accepted approach to decision making that provided a way to evaluate the options and determine the most appropriate solution for a given site. The China Principles planning process provided a decision-making process, which was followed for the project and led to the decision to conserve, rather than restore, the authentic historic fabric of the temple. The project had involved extensive research, analysis and testing, condition assessment and development of concept proposals for both ruined structures and the intact architecture with its furnishings, sculpture and painted decoration. A particular focus of the project was research and analytical investigations into the original materials and techniques of construction and decoration of Shuxiang Temple, particularly the extant painted architectural decoration (calhua). The caihua investigations were undertaken with significant participation of CACH staff.


Assessment Report on Shuxiang Temple, Chengde
Chengde Cultural Heritage Bureau,
Hebei Cultural Heritage Bureau, and
Getty Conservation Institute

Following from the concept plan, detailed specifications for the architectural stabilization of both ruins and intact buildings were developed by the Hebei Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau. Based on the research and testing, detailed plans for the conservation of the painted decoration were developed and implemented by the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage, with the GCI serving only in an advisory role.

Implementation of the approved plans began in 2011 and was largely completed in 2015. Conservation of the main hall and gatehouse with original building fabric and painted decoration has been completed, with the sculpture and furnishings remaining to be conserved (to be undertaken by CACH). Thirteen ruined structures have been stabilized or reburied. Rockeries and stone elements have been repaired or restored. Minor restoration in the form of replastering was undertaken to achieve greater visual unity on the exterior of buildings.

Although there are areas of improvement required in the stabilization of ruined masonry structures, the conservation of Shuxiang Temple marks a real milestone in the preservation of Qing dynasty architecture at Chengde. The conservation of the temple complex has stabilized the deteriorating fabric allowing the temple to continue to serve as an authentic witness to a lost past.

Page last updated: August 2019