Commentary RESEARCH

Preserving the Past


2019-02-28 08:34

Lan Xinzhen
Beijing Review

A comprehensive plan to protect the Great Wall was promulgated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the National Cultural Heritage Administration on January 24, underlining the importance of establishing a long-term mechanism.

The Great Wall is one of the largest cultural heritage sites in the world. Measuring more than 21,100 km, it was initially built during the Qin Dynasty over 2,000 years ago. Since it gained UNESCO world heritage status in 1987, the Chinese Government's preservation efforts have strictly complied with the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

These efforts have been gradually developed based on the Cultural Relics Protection Law and the Great Wall Protection Ordinance. They are also supported by regulations implemented in regions where sections of the Great Wall pass through or border.

However, the Great Wall is still facing threats from natural disasters and human behavior. Rain-wash, soil erosion, desertification, animal activity and the growth of vegetation all pose a risk to this historical structure. Tourism programs and large infrastructure projects also make implementing necessary protection difficult. A long-term mechanism is badly needed to prevent further damage and other problems from occurring.

According to the plan, the new mechanism follows an overall protection strategy. In addition to regular maintenance, damaged sections need to be repaired on the principle of minimum intervention with regard to the original structure and appearance. The top-level strategy will be made by the National Cultural Heritage Administration, while local governments are responsible for management, maintenance, repairs and provision of funds.

It is hoped that with the government taking the lead, public participation in protecting China's most iconic site will accelerate. In addition, campaigns will be launched to explore the historical and cultural connotations of the Great Wall and make them widely known.

The mechanism also provides a framework for protecting other cultural relics.

In the minds of the general Chinese public, protecting relics is the responsibility of the government. Moreover, they lack the basic knowledge of preservation. However, relics are the embodiment of culture and document a nation's heritage, requiring mass participation to ensure these precious sites are effectively protected and maintained, which is a lesson from the preservation of the Great Wall.

Laws and regulations that specify the standards and procedure for cultural relics protection need to be more detailed as the requirements for the work vary depending on diverse features. For instance, the protection of the Great Wall exposed to nature is very different from maintaining the Palace Museum in Beijing, which was the imperial residence, known as the Forbidden City, of Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).

The Great Wall Protection Ordinance of 2006 is the first specific regulation for cultural relics preservation issued by the State Council, China's cabinet. It clarifies the responsibilities of governments at various levels and set up the fundamental rules for the protection and management of the Great Wall. Between 2014 and 2016, some regulations concerning maintenance, renovation and inspection were successively formulated. According to local conditions, provincial-level regions which the wall runs through have also designed rules for implementation, ensuring law-based protection.

A lack of funds is another challenge and one which can lead to the loss of many important Chinese relics such as the Great Wall. In response, a sponsorship program was initiated by the Great Wall's management authority in 1984, followed by social organizations in some provincial-level regions along the wall to assist with fiscal matters. In recent years, International Friends of the Great Wall, a group aiming to preserve the authenticity of the Great Wall, organized many events including donating waste bins and spreading the environment-friendly concept of Great Wall conservation. More than 100,000 people took part in a fundraising program organized by the China Culture Relics Protection Foundation and multiple Internet firms. Such non-government forces are playing a vital role in galvanizing public opinion in support of the preservation of the Great Wall and raising funds.

China, an ancient civilization, has many historical and cultural sites of huge significance. With the successful protection of the Great Wall, other such treasures can be preserved for many generations to come.



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