Business / Economy

Research base to focus on villages from ancient era

By Meng Fanbin (China Daily) Updated: 2015-06-04 14:57

A new research facility has opened in one of China's oldest traditional villages, Nanshe in the city of Dongguan, Guandong province, to focus on renovating then preserving some of the country's most important heritage sites.

The new Guided Research Base of the Protection and Development Research Center for Chinese Ancient Villages opened suitably on May 19, the National Tourism Day. Chang Jiang, secretary-general of the reseach center, said, Nanshe is considered a model in old village preservation.

The new research facility will focus on funding the best ways of how places like Nanshe can successfully coexist with contemporary civilization, he said.

The Protection and Development Research Center for Chinese Ancient Villages is one of the country's earliest non-governmental organizations and public service groups, which was founded in 1998. Many of the organization's members are famous architects, including Ruan Yisan, the acclaimed architectural professor at Shanghai's Tongji University.

Nanshe is considered by historians as enormously valuable because it has managed to maintain buildings, temples and architecture that represent centuries-old ways of life that have largely disappeared elsewhere in China. It was selected as a special "China Landscape Village" by the center in 2011.

"Creating a program of integrated landscape preservation is more important than any one single site or relic, such as the protection of an old temple," said Zhang Anmeng, the 65-year-old founder of the research center who has been involved in village preservation for more than 25 years.

For example, there might be several elements that make up just the entrance to a village, she said, such as a bridge, a pavilion, a temple and an ancestral hall. "We should protect all these elements together, because they reflect our history and our traditional culture."

Dating back more than 800 years and covering an area of 96,000 square meters, Nanshe in Dongguan's Chashan town features the Lingnan architectural style, typical of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Rich with many vivid and unique sculptures carved into houses, temples and bridges, the village is surrounded by ancient woods and wetlands and is renowned for its atmosphere of peace, stability and harmony.

Zhang said there are many reasons why old villages such as Nanshe are disappearing, but it is mainly down to the country's massive urbanization process, a lack of knowledge and awareness by society, and residents being keen to improve their own living conditions.

"Over the past five to 10 years China's highway construction, for instance, has also ruined many ancient villages in remote areas."

As the only full-time volunteer at the research center, Zhang has been involved in shooting 13 episodes of a TV documentary focused on its work, and has written her own book China Ancient Villages on protecting these villages.

"We want to raise their awareness, so more people can help protect these precious parts of our culture and history," she said. But these physical buildings and cultural relics are actually only part of the story. "There are many other more intangible parts of our heritage in ancient villages, which we should all be more concerned about, such as etiquette festivals, traditional crafts and folk activities."

The central government has already created a list of more than 2,500 traditional villages all over China, now to be afforded official protection. "Protection of China's oldest villages is a huge systematic project," Xinhuanet quoted Feng Jicai, chairman of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Society, as saying.

"It is impossible to manage that successfully with just a few experts and volunteers. Fortunately, the government has already started to realize that village protection should be part of urbanization and has said it will attach more importance to this kind of work in future."

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