Development of the China Principles (1997-2000)

The development of the China Principles was premised on a holistic approach to the preservation of heritage sites. Key to the process is the conviction that heritage sites have values that can be identified and stated, and that the aim of conservation and management is to preserve those values unimpaired. National guidelines were critically important in a rapidly changing nation emerging from fifty years of relative isolation. In addition to conservation and maintenance issues, rapid economic development, social mobility, changing mores, and increasing tourism were posing new management challenges to heritage preservation.

The development stage of the project was organized as a series of meetings, workshops, and site visits among the partners over a three-year period (1997–2000). The aims of the project were formally established at a meeting of the partners in Beijing in October 1997 under the auspices of SACH, which created the core working group, headed by Zhang Bai, then deputy director-general of SACH. This SACH working group undertook the responsibility for writing the guidelines and participating in meetings and workshops.

The first workshops were held in Australia in 1998 and 1999 in order to understand the development of Australia's heritage conservation guidelines (as expressed in the Burra Charter of Australia ICOMOS), and to examine the practice of conservation and management in that country. The workshops were structured around visits to historic and prehistoric sites—in and around Sydney and Canberra—chosen to reflect a wide range of heritage values and approaches to conservation, management, interpretation, and use. Discussions centered on how the conservation principles and planning process advocated in the Burra Charter have been applied to these heritage places. In both workshops, a range of Australian authorities and practitioners participated. Additionally, discussions with Australia ICOMOS were held with the purpose of explaining how the organization operates using the instrument of the Burra Charter.

Workshops and meetings were also held in China in 1998 and 1999 at the World Heritage sites of the Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort and Outlying Temples in Hebei Province, and the Mogao Grottoes in Gansu Province, in which the Principles, at various stages of development, began to be tested against the realities of problems faced by site managers. Periodic review meetings among the core team and visits to sites with briefings by site managers and other professionals, followed by discussions, informed the process of writing the guidelines. Site visits took place in Beijing and Tianjin Municipalities, and Hebei, Liaoning, Shandong, Fujian, Gansu, and Yunnan Provinces.

Periodic meetings were held by SACH with a group of thirty Chinese experts to garner wider input to the Principles. A final study tour took place in the United States in April and May 2000. Site visits in Los Angeles, and the southwestern United States (New Mexico) provided insights into professional practice in the United States. The US State Department, Office of International Visitors, hosted an extension of the trip to the Washington, DC area to round out the participants' experience of conservation practice in the United States.

At an internal meeting of the SACH core group and experts at Chengde in October 2000, the final document was ratified and issued under the auspices of China ICOMOS with the approval of SACH. A formal English translation of the document, which includes extensive commentary and a Chinese-English glossary, was completed by the GCI in 2002.

In 2010, revisions to the China Principles were undertaken by SACH and China ICOMOS.

Page last updated: August 2019