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China strengthens cultural heritage protection 2018-11-16

HANGZHOU - (June 7, 2013). Mao Zhaoxi takes a stroll every day around the historic block along the Grand Canal in East China's tourist city of Hangzhou. A decade ago, the 80-year-old's protest prevented the historic area from being pulled down.

"We should not sacrifice cultural heritage in the name of urban construction," said Mao, former head of Zhejiang Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau.

Chinese people started to dig the 1,794 km-long Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal in 486 BC and finished the project in 1293. It is the world's longest artificial waterway, which goes through six provinces and municipalities.

An application for the canal to gain UNESCO World Heritage status is due to be submitted, the local government said.

The historic Qiaoxi block on the canal's west bank, which attracts both locals and tourists, is a witness to the waterway's two-thousand-year-long history.

China has made extra effort in protecting its cultural heritage, both unmovable and intangible ones, in the past decade during its rapid urbanization process. Unmovable cultural heritages include archeological sites.

According to statistics from the latest national archaeological survey conducted from 2007 to 2011, the country has more than 760,000 registered unmovable cultural relics and 2,384 state-owned museums holding 28.6 million relics.

In May, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage added 1,943 unmovable cultural relic sites to the list of key areas that need protection, taking the total number of sites on this list to 4,295.

Reviewed by more than 130 experts, the newly added sites, in Shanxi, Henan, Hunan, Hebei and Jiangsu provinces, contain 795 pieces of ancient architecture and 516 ancient ruins as well as stone inscriptions and outstanding modern architecture.

But not all cultural relic sites are well preserved.

"The Liangzhu Archaeological site was like a battlefield in the 1980s as the area was unpreserved and shops were erected nearby. Stones quarried on the mountains were transported to Shanghai to build skyscrapers," said Yan Wenming, professor at Peking University.

Not until 2001 did Zhejiang province carry out regulations to protect the site that dates back 5,000 years, close quarries, and move national roads farther away from it.

In 2012, the area was placed on China's waiting list to become a world cultural heritage site.

For intangible cultural heritages, like mulberry silk weaving, the problem is how to pass on the technique.

Zhao Feng, curator of the China National Silk Museum, said mulberry fields shrink 10 to 15 percent each year in Haining city, a core area for the silk industry historically.

"In ten years, workers who reel silk from cocoons will no longer be able find a job in the city," said Zhao.

"Once a hard currency on the Ancient Silk Road, silk, silk's weaving technique, and its relevant culture and history should all be preserved," Zhao added.

The curator is now working on an ecological garden for mulberry trees in order to promote silk production and silk weaving in an ancient village in Haining.

"Hopefully more people learn to appreciate silk weaving and understand the importance of preserving it," he said.

Wang Xiaobing, professor at Intangible Cultural Heritage Research Center of Sun Yat-sen University is delighted to see increasing awareness of cultural heritage preservation.

He said, "China once lost confidence in its traditional culture and only rediscovered its charm in the past two decades."

Wang said when the country first carried out the reform and opening up policy, culture gave way to economic development and ancient villages transformed in to commercial blocks.

"But now people care more about their cultural identity," he added.

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