Construction destroys tower, tombs
A furore has erupted over the construction of an aluminium plant in North China's Shanxi Province, which is alleged to have led to the damage of irreplaceable cultural heritage.
"Bulldozers have ruined a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) beacon tower and dozens of ancient tombs have been destroyed," claimed Shi Weiguo, a senior engineer from the Yuanping Cultural Relics Bureau's exploration centre.
He said the tombs were believed to be from the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220).
Shi said many of the tombs were clustered together, so the real extent of the damage is still unknown.
The Shandong Luneng Group Corp is investing in the plant. It claimed there were no local records of a beacon tower in the area.
"Only two ancient tombs have been discovered by us," said Chen Baojun, a company departmental manager. "And they have been well preserved by us."
Eager to finish the first stage of its new plant, the company broke ground in October without obtaining clearance from the local cultural relics protection authorities, Shi claimed.
As a result, the beacon tower was ruined and more than 30 tombs were destroyed, he alleged.
Shi said he and his colleagues visited the site several times before construction started, asking the company to conduct an archaeological survey.
But the company repeatedly put off their proposal.
According to China's law to preserve cultural relics, pre-archaeological investigations have to be included in construction budgets.
"We did have a budget for an archaeological survey," Chen said. "But it was not enough to cover what the bureau was quoting us to do the job."
He said the local bureau of cultural relics had asked for 4 million yuan (US$480,000) to complete the first phase of the survey, "and that was too much for us."
"What's more, we obtained relevant documents from the local government, allowing us to start construction at the site," Chen alleged.
He said the construction team stopped work on December 8.
National and local experts have investigated the beacon tower and destroyed tombs.
Song Beishan, vice-governor of the province, went to the site recently in a bid to reach an agreement with the construction team.
Work will be suspended until an archaeological investigation can be carried out, which is expected to take place after the February 9 Spring Festival, Chen said.
Shi says the survey will be used to salvage what is left of the decimated tombs and ensure the rest of them are protected.