Foundation laid for Fuzhou to preserve its culture

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A bird's-eye view of Sanfang Qixiang in downtown Fuzhou, Fujian province. [Photo/Xinhua]

As thousands of visitors explore the ancient alleys and mansions in Sanfang Qixiang, a popular attraction in Fuzhou, Fujian province, every day, few of them are aware of the efforts made to protect the area by the city's leaders.

Home to one of the nation's largest preserved old-town districts, the area once boasted more than 200 examples of ancient architecture and was hailed as a "museum" for buildings from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

However, before the 1990s, many of the mansions were subdivided into squatter homes. Some were on the verge of being demolished as the authorities in Fuzhou stepped up real estate development.

In 1991, when Xi Jinping was secretary of the Communist Party of China Fuzhou city committee-the city's top official-he led local efforts to protect and renovate the ancient buildings and heritage sites.

Wu Yujian, head of the Fuzhou Cultural Heritage Administration, said a series of important measures adopted by Xi during his time in the city laid the foundation for preserving Sanfang Qixiang.

The importance of a meeting presided over by Xi was highlighted by Wu. The meeting adopted a policy document on protecting the residences of historical figures and other heritage sites in Sanfang Qixiang and elsewhere in Fuzhou.

"Xi called for the restoration of many cultural heritage sites that would later become the city's landmark buildings and key tourist attractions," Wu said.

One ancient building under threat was the birthplace of Lin Zexu, a scholar, official and native of Fuzhou who led the fight against opium smuggling during the Qing Dynasty.

The building was protected from developers after Xi chaired a meeting in 1996 that decided to form a special leading group to investigate renovating the site. The city government allocated funding of 12 million yuan to compensate developers.

The former residence of Lin Juemin, a revolutionary in the Qing Dynasty, was also protected and renovated after a meeting chaired by Xi.

Wu said Xi's tenure in Fuzhou reflected his long-standing focus on protecting cultural heritage, and he led the way for his successors in the city to continue this work.

In March last year, Xi visited Sanfang Qixiang during an inspection trip to Fujian. He said ensuring the sound protection of ancient neighborhoods, buildings and cultural relics preserves the history and cultural traditions of a city.

He also reiterated the need to value and respect old buildings and neighborhoods.

Wu said Xi laid a solid foundation for cultural heritage protection efforts in Fuzhou, which now boasts 4,783 cultural heritage sites, including 25 under national protection.

The city hosted the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee in July last year, an occasion widely seen as recognition of Fuzhou's remarkable achievements in protecting cultural heritage.

In a congratulatory message to the session, Xi said China, while continuing to enhance its capacity to safeguard heritage, is ready to support the global cause of such protection and jointly preserve mankind's cultural and natural treasures.

At the session, China pledged to provide 100 scholarships for students from developing countries-particularly those from African nations and small island states-to nurture expertise in conserving and managing World Heritage sites over the next five years.

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