Squaring the preservation-modernization circle

Updated 2017-03-31 10:31:49 China Daily

A tomb from the Liao (916-1125) and Jin (1115-1234) dynasties.

The contradiction between the construction of modern cities and the protection of cultural relics has long posed challenges for urban planners, but Beijing has set a good example of squaring the circle with the planning of its new sub-city center in Tongzhou district.

The area, located in the east of the city, has been chosen as the capital's new administrative center, which has necessitated the construction of a raft of office blocks.

On Jan 9, a meeting of the municipal government decided to protect and preserve the recently excavated Lucheng ancient city, which dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), by building a heritage park around it.

“Beijing will include the ancient city and the preservation of other cultural relics in the planning process for the construction of the new sub-city center,” said Shu Xiaofeng, head of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Shu said the rising cost of compensating people for leaving their homes in historic buildings has become the biggest obstacle to the protection of cultural relics. However, the administration will make every effort to continue its work, despite the difficulties presented by interested parties, such as property developers.

The remains of the ancient city were unearthed last year during an archaeological survey conducted in advance of construction work beginning in Tongzhou, and it is one of the focuses of the capital's cultural-relics preservation work this year.

Shu said the administration will begin preliminary work for the construction of the heritage park later in the year.

According to an official document outlining the development plan for the capital's cultural center during the 13th Five-Year-Plan (2016-20), the city will establish three “cultural belts” - called the Great Wall, Canal and Xishan Mountain - in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei cluster.

“We will protect the relics within the three cultural belts, with the aim of improving both the local economy and people's lives through a range of methods,” Shu said. “How to translate the preservation work into social benefits is a problem that we need to research.”

He said the administration has limited capital, so it was helpful that other municipal departments participated in the process and provided support.

For example, the development of Gubeikou, a county in the north of the capital, involved cultural-relics protection departments and the transportation, tourist and economic-planning authorities.

The departments played their parts in the improvement of infrastructure construction and brought private capital to the area after the relics were found.

Gubeikou is now a scenic spot and a history education base for the public. Local people's living standards have also been improved by the arrival of large numbers of tourists.

Shan Jixiang, head of Beijing's Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, said years of development mean the area in downtown Beijing in which cultural relics have been located covers less than one-third of the city center.

The styles of the buildings and streets are very different to those that existed in the past, and a number of well-preserved alleys have been commercially developed to a limited extent, resulting in them losing their original ambience.

“It's difficult to both develop a modern multifunctional city and preserve its historical and cultural resources,” Shan said.

The Beijing government is working to relocate a number of non-core sectors, such as heavy industry, outside the city, which could pose big challenges for those tasked with preserving areas of historical interest, according to Shan: “We should cherish our historical and cultural heritage like our own lives. Urbanization doesn't mean paving everything over and constructing new buildings.”

Earlier this month, during the two sessions - the annual meetings of China's top legislative and political advisory bodies - Liu Yuzhu, head of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said “bringing relics to life” is a key task for the administration during the 13th Five-Year Plan.

He added that the administration has gradually opened 770,000 immovable cultural relics nationwide to the public in recent years, marking a big move forward.

“The very first step is to make the relics accessible to the people,” he said.

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