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President's Speech Boosts Cultural Heritage Protection

Source:China Daily Published:2020-08-22 17:38

In the year since President Xi Jinping spoke about preservation of cultural heritage during an inspection of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Gansu province, the officials charged with protecting those sites have become better equipped to safeguard them and research their place in the country's history.

Last August, Xi visited the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, a complex of hundreds of Buddhist grottoes with murals and statues from the fourth to 14th centuries, and Jiayuguan Pass, at the western end of the Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

At Dunhuang Academy, the administrative and academic institution overseeing Mogao Caves, Xi called for more effort to carry forward the inclusive spirit of the Mogao Caves through comprehensive studies and thereby enhance people's cultural confidence. He also emphasized the importance of building stronger protection and research teams for such priceless treasures.

On Wednesday, on the first anniversary of Xi's speech, officials announced the establishment in the city of a new, provincial-level conservation and research center for cultural relics from Dunhuang.

The center has attracted a consulting committee of 27 experts not only from the academy but also including top-tier scholars nationwide. They include Yan Chunhua, an academician of the China Academy of Sciences, and Wang Xudong, director of the Palace Museum in Beijing.

Among those regularly working at the center will be 131 researchers covering over 20 disciplines including archaeology, geology and environmental science.

"We have a duty to explore a complete scientific system for the conservation of the grottoes, which will benefit other sites as well," said Zhao Shengliang, director of Dunhuang Academy. "We'll keep an open mind to continuously promote international academic exchanges."

The academy has launched cooperative research programs with Iran, India and Pakistan, along with deepening ties with globally renowned institutions like the Getty Conservation Institute in United States.

The Dunhuang announcement inspired those attending a meeting sponsored by the National Cultural Heritage Administration in Beijing marking the one-year anniversary of Xi's speech.

"Protection is the priority," said Liu Yuzhu, director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration. "We need to strengthen our appreciation for historic sites and prioritize their safety when dealing with urban construction, tourism and economic development."

The Ministry of Finance said 6 billion yuan ($867 million) is to be allocated from the central government's budget for protection of cultural heritage in 2020, a year-on-year increase of 300 million yuan. Also, under the guidance of the Ministry of Education, more content related to cultural heritage was included in school history textbooks to improve students' consciousness about protection.

Liu said that in the past year, 20 provincial-level administrative regions have included the protection of heritage sites in their evaluations of local governments.

"We have to ensure the stability of grassroots-level protectors and law-enforcement teams in ongoing executive reforms," Liu said.

As a result, many positions have been added by local governments and public institutions in charge of heritage sites.

An extra 183 positions were provided for the Dunhuang Academy and a planned Gansu Bamboo and Wooden Slips Museum. The slips were used for writing before paper was available. In Baoji, Shaanxi province, site of a trove of bronze archaeological discoveries, the city government set up an independent department specifically for the care of cultural treasures.

At Friday's meeting, Liu said that the draft of a revised version of the Law on the Protection of Cultural Relics may be turned over to the State Council this year, and a new national regulation on underwater cultural heritage is also being drafted.

More archaeological research, including 58 key projects, is expected to provide physical traces of early Chinese civilization.

One highlight is a five-year program focusing on sites in Henan province related to the Xia Dynasty (c.21st century-16th century BC), the earliest central kingdom encompassing a large amount of territory that was recorded in Chinese history. Joining in the effort to unravel historical puzzles surrounding the dynasty are the National Cultural Heritage Administration, the Henan provincial government and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Archaeology, through its new findings and solid evidence, have continuously traced the origins of our civilization to more than 5,000 years ago," said Zhu Yanshi, deputy head of the archaeology institute of the CASS. "It can thereby enhance the cultural cohesion of the Chinese people."

Editor:Zhao Hanqing