Ancient Sites to Get Facelift

Beijing’s Olympic makeover to polish up its ancient face


By CHEN WEN

Several of Beijing’s well-known historical treasures will be polished up and given new life in 2004. As part of the extensive revamping in preparation for the 2008 summer Olympics, a total of six World Cultural Heritage sites will get a facelift to restore their ancient luster. They are the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, the Peking Man ruins at Zhoukoudian and the Ming Tombs.

JUST LIKE NEW: An overhaul of the Forbidden City has begun

The protection of cultural relics has been a continual process in Beijing. But this is the first time that renovation has been carried out on such a large scale since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, according to Wang Yuwei, Deputy Director of the Cultural Relics Protection Department of the Beijing Municipal Cultural Relics Bureau.

Wang told Beijing Review that cultural relics protection has three aspects: to renovate objects or sites of cultural significance; to make them available for public appreciation in a rational way; and to improve their surrounding environment.

Wang stressed the importance of rational use of the heritage sites for public display as opposed to for residential facilities or schools. The Imperial Temple of Emperors of Successive Dynasties located in Xicheng District in Beijing had been used by the Beijing No.159 Middle School until early last year when renovation of the temple was carried out.

The protection of cultural relics requires massive material resources and manpower. According to Wang, the municipal government has planned to invest 600 million yuan ($72.5 million) in cultural relics protection in the city from 2003 to 2007, compared with 330 million yuan ($39.9 million) from 2000 to 2002. The government investment will go to the protection projects of nearly 100 cultural relics. The refurbishment of these six world heritage sites beginning this year, however, is the most high profile.

Therefore, even the nudge up in government investment cannot satisfy financial needs, Wang said. “The purpose of government investment is to bring more private investment.” He went on to say that the other investment is encouraged from site areas themselves such as local businesses and local departments that directly manage the sites. The Forbidden City, for instance, raises money itself for the protection and renovation work.

Wang said that from 2000 to 2002, social investment in the cultural relics protection in Beijing amounted to nearly to 3 billion yuan ($362 million), almost 10 times the governmental investment during the same period.

The renovation specifically includes the Simatai Section of the Great Wall, Foxiangge (The Pavilion of Buddhist Fragrance) and Paiyundian (The Cloud Dispersing Hall) located in the Summer Palace, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven, Wumen (Meridian Gate) and Yanxi Hall of the Forbidden City, the Peking Man exhibit at Zhoukoudian in Fangshan District, and the tombs of Qingling and Tailing in the Ming Tombs.

It has long been discussed whether cultural relics should be made to look new or not, but there is still no consensus.

Wang believes that “oldness” should not be isolated as a sole standard for maintaining cultural relics. “Personally, I think there is only one basic principle, that is, not to change their original appearance,” said Wang.

According to Wang, the refurbished world heritage sites will preserve two kinds of appearance: “magnificence” and “ancientness,” but not worn out. Regarding the latter one, Wang made an apt analogy. “It is like washing and mending an old piece of cloth, though the style and texture are still old, it is cleaner and tidier than before,” he said.

The refurbishment plan for the six world heritage sites has been discussed and approved, Wang said, adding that the teams responsible for the tasks would have bureau-authenticated qualifications.

Beginning this year, formal national management measures have been adopted for the renovation and preservation of cultural relics, Wang revealed. The units are divided into four levels. Only first-level teams are qualified to do the actual renovation at the national level.

Organizations from anywhere in the country can bid for the renovation work publicly on an equal footing. Previously, renovation projects of cultural sites in Beijing were only done by local teams.

“The labor force for the renovations is sufficient,” Wang added.