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Urban growth with caring hands
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-10 00:11

Should ancient houses in narrow hutongs be pulled down to make way for skyscrapers and wider streets?

That's a question facing Chinese architects and engineers as they grapple with development of modern cities, and try to keep the harmony between urbanization and ancient culture.

The protection of relics can be achieved only if a legal framework and professional city planning systems are developed, relics protection experts believe.

Ancient cities should invite cultural relics experts to make protection plans that place harmony with the past as a priority in the city's planning programme blueprints, Luo Zhewen, president of China Cultural Relics Association, told China Daily Monday.

"City development and cultural relics protection will never conflict if the approval of urban construction projects is maintained within light of the overall relics protection outline,'' Luo said.

However, many of the country's many cultural relics have been damaged from tourism industry development and rapid infrastructure construction, such as the illegally demolishing of a 500-year-old mansion in Nanjing, he said.

Thanks to the new amendment of Law for Protection of Cultural Relics and other cultural relics protection regulations, tougher measures have been taken to stop bulldozers from razing buildings of historical interest in cities and villages, said Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

The next three or four decades will be critical ones for China's heritage, as the nation's cities continue their ever-present encroachment on the countryside, Shan said at a national working conference on cultural relics protection late last year in Beijing.

Relics protection is under severe threat in China as criminals still seek profits from relics and city reconstruction poses a menace to urban cultural heritage.

The safety of housed relics is worrisome too. Since 1998, eight cases have been uncovered involving several museum workers and 268 smuggled relics, according to the administration.

Li Haitao, former head of Wai Bamiao Temple protection office in Chengde in North China's Hebei Province, stole 158 relics in 12 years, which is a typical example of cases in recent years.

Stone sculptures and relics in temples are vulnerable to theft since most of them are widely scattered in fields and lack enough protection. Since 1996, a total of 252 cases have occurred regarding these relics, about 67.7 per cent of the total relics cases during the period, statistics show.

Any government department found auctioning, renting, transferring or mortgaging cultural heritage relics will be punished accordingly, Shan said.

Shan pointed to the World Cultural Heritage of Wudang Mountain in Shiyan, Central China's Hubei Province, where a 1,000-year-old palace in the mountain was burned down after being rented by a private kung fu school. Two people responsible for the fire were sent to jail.

The present relics protection situation brooks no optimism, Shan said.

"We should mainly enforce protection, put the rescuing in the first place, and reasonably use of resources strengthens all-around management for the regional protection of historical and cultural heritage as a whole.''

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