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Suzhou gets face-lift for heritage meeting
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-24 08:54

With the 28th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC) drawing near, organizers and citizens in Suzhou are busy with their preparations.

"I am confident that it will be the best session ever," said Yang Weize, mayor of Suzhou in east China's Jiangsu Province.

Thanks to its nine gardens joining the list of World Heritage Sites, Suzhou has become the first city in China to host such an annual meeting, which will be held from June 28 to July 7 this year.

Workers have now completed 90 per cent of the job of reconstructing the modern part of the Suzhou City Planning Exhibition Hall into a conference hall, which will be ready for trial use next month, according to Jiang Renjie, vice-mayor of Suzhou.

The conference site, after four rounds of selections, is finally being situated right by the city's circulating moat.

Though not as modern-looking as the conference halls in developed countries, it is trying to incorporate the ancient city's unique features into its construction.

The bamboo wood and small yard in the hall help visitors get a taste of the South China. Black, white and gray colors are featured in the architecture, which got its inspiration from the colour composition of white-washed walls and dark tile roofs in the waterside towns. The curved rooftops are identical to those in the Suzhou classical gardens.

In addition to six conference rooms and 18 workshops, tea break rooms and prayer room have also been specially built.

Directly behind the conference hall stands the ancient part of the Suzhou City Planning Exhibition Hall, where the items on display, ranging from maps and pictures to models and sculptures, will showcase the city's high achievements in the past in city planning and construction.

As early as two years ago, Suzhou had already undertaken a conservation campaign in the ancient city. Some buildings alongside its major roads were renovated in line with the general style and features found in the city.

"We are trying to introduce the art of building gardens in the city streets, making the visitors immediately feel the charm of Suzhou's classical gardens as soon as they come into the city," said Jiang.

The renovations are set to be completed before May 20.

Boasting a reputation as a cultural city, a dance troupe from Suzhou is rehearsing the full-length dance drama, "Gang Jiang and Mo Ye," which the organizers believe will be a way for the foreign guests to get a taste of traditional Chinese culture.

Ballad Singing, Kunqu (also called Kunju Opera), and Pingtan, known as the Three Flowers of Suzhou's folk culture, will be performed at night during the conference period.

Kunqu has a history of 400 years and is called the Mother of Chinese Opera.

To better protect the melodious singing art, named by UNESCO in 2001 as a "representative work of human being's oral and non-substantial heritage," Suzhou specially built the Kunqu Opera Museum of China and now first-phase construction has been completed.

Some famous Kunqu operas have been re-worked.

For participants of the conference, a visit to the classical gardens, water towns as well as a night cruise on the circulating moat will be arranged.

More than Suzhou volunteers from selected universities are undergoing training on world heritage and will work at the conference.

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