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Beijing's heritage status to be questioned
By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-07-01 01:27

Beijing's balancing of development and heritage protection will hit the spotlight.

The capital is among the World Heritage sites to be questioned by the 28th session of World Heritage Committee.

Workers build a temporary wooden roof over one of the many halls in the Forbidden City in Beijing Tuesday, June 29, 2004. [Reuters]

Kong Fanzhi, head of the Beijing Municipal Cultural Relics Bureau, said discussion on Beijing's heritage protection is related to changes in the surroundings of the Imperial Palace of Ming and Qing dynasties. Some say those changes have affected the city's heritage.

"Having international organizations remind us of problems in protection is good for us," Kong said.

The 28th session of the World Heritage Committee will question a total of 121 sites, four sites of them in China, reported the Beijing-based Star Daily on Tuesday.

The four sites are the Imperial Palace of Ming and Qing dynasties in Beijing, Suzhou of East China's Jiangsu Province, the Potala Palace in Lhasa of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the ancient building complex in the Wudang Mountains in Hubei Province.

Suzhou will be questioned because the location of the new Suzhou Museum may influence the Garden of Clumsy Administration, a World heritage site. The Wudang Mountain management office will be questioned about its poor protection measures that failed to prevent one of the buildings from being destroyed in a fire last year.

But officials from both Lhasa and Wudang Mountain management office said they have not been informed of the questioning, while officials with Suzhou have not been available for comments.

Insiders warned that the World Heritage Sites designation is not a lifelong one.

Discussion and questioning are equivalent to an oral warning. If no measures are taken to protect the sites, the site may be added to the endangered list or removed from the World Heritage List.

"All in all, the sites must make clear the purpose of their applying for World Heritage. Otherwise, the success of being inscribed in the list will only do more harm to the cultural and natural properties since they overlook protection and emphasize development," said Xie Chensheng, expert in cultural relics protection.

Despite the purpose, experts said the balance between protection and development is a tricky one to maintain.

Kong said the capital has been making efforts to protect world heritage sites but is faced with that difficult balance.

The official, who attended the committee's 27th session in Paris, France, said almost 80 per cent of the 102 sites which were questioned at last year's meeting faced the same problem.

"Improper planning of urban construction and development will have a bad influence on heritage protection. So we are now trying our best to reduce the bad influence as much as possible," he said.

In the past decade, Beijing has not approved a single building project along the city's central axis, he said.

Demolition of houses in the eastern corner of Huangchenggen area were stopped, as was rebuilding in Beijing's old Dashila business district in Qianmen, he said.

To protect the Ming Tombs, another site included in the World Heritage List last year, the municipal government has banned construction of any new buildings in the surrounding areas where 15,000 farmers live, he said.

"In the future, we will take measures to clean up the outside appearance of the World Heritage Sites step by step as the World Heritage Committee required," he said.

On Wednesday the World Heritage Committee was deliberating how many of this year's 48 nominees will be inscribed in the list.

The Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom, which China nominated this year, will be discussed today, said Li Xinquan, leader of archaeology team on the property.

The questioning of sites already on the list will be done in the later part of the session, which is due to end on July 7th.

"As the capital of China, Beijing is developing. We are trying our best to reduce the influence of development on our precious heritage," he said.

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