Historic preservationist Liu Weicai passed away in late August, marking the end of his six-decade-long dedication to the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the revered revolutionary leader who played a pivotal role in overthrowing imperial rule in China.
Photo taken on Oct. 9, 2011 shows flower decorations to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1911 (Xinhai) Revolution at the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province. [Xinhua/Sun Can]
"His death is our great loss. He knew everything about the mausoleum's history," said Zhou Juping, Liu's informal student and an employee of the mausoleum's administration bureau.
Liu had been dubbed the "Living Archives" of the mausoleum. He witnessed the shift of its keepers from the Chinese Kuomintang Party (KMT) to the Communist Party of China (CPC), and had participated in all major renovation projects after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
The mausoleum sits on the Zijin Mountain in Nanjing, capital city of eastern Jiangsu Province. Its construction was initiated by KMT members to pay respect to Dr. Sun, the party's founding father.
Under the leadership of Dr. Sun, the Xinhai Revolution began with an armed uprising on Oct. 10, 1911. The revolution ended the world's longest term of autocratic rule, which was established by Emperor Qinshihuang in 221 B.C. and ended with the toppling of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and led to the founding of Asia's first republican government.
In 1948, 19-year-old Liu joined the KMT troops in charge of guarding Dr. Sun's mausoleum. He patrolled the area on a horse every day.
"He cherished the job and tried his best to carry everything he saw in his mind, which later helped him become an expert on relics protection here," Zhou said.
In April 1949, CPC-led People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops occupied Nanjing and took over the mausoleum after a peaceful negotiation with KMT troops.
Liu once said during an interview that in early 1949 many KMT officials who foresaw their failure in the war against the CPC began retreating to Taiwan, including Sun Fo, Dr. Sun's eldest son.
Before Sun Fo left, he convinced the troops guarding Dr. Sun's mausoleum to stay, according to Liu.
"He told us that Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai had great respect for Dr. Sun and they wouldn't get us in trouble," Liu said.
Sun's words turned out to be true. All the KMT soldiers in the mausoleum were later allowed to join the PLA and continue their jobs. In 1951, Liu began working to preserve architecture in the mausoleum.
The architecture in the mausoleum was damaged during the Anti-Japanese War in 1937 and the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.
Since 1979, the Chinese government has launched three major renovation projects for the mausoleum, aiming to restore the tomb gate, the stone tablet pavilion, the memorial hall and the burial chamber.
More than two decades ago, the renovations were not perfectly executed due to limited technologies, but advanced techniques have been applied to the renovation work in recent years.
In June, experts with the Nanjing Museum repaired reliefs carved on the foundation of a marble sculpture of Sun Yat-sen in the memorial hall.
The reliefs were created by a French sculptor in 1930, and were wrecked in the Cultural Revolution along with numerous other historical relics across the country.
The reliefs were made of Italian white marble, a material rarely used in China. The experts spent months experimenting before finally finding a substitute.
"We created a compound of organic and inorganic substances that greatly resembles Italian white marble. Such a compound has never been used in sculptures before," said Xu Fei, a deputy researcher with the Nanjing Museum.
In 2004, the city government of Nanjing kicked off a four-year project to improve the environment around the mausoleum, with an investment of about four billion yuan (about 627 million U.S. dollars).
This year marks the centenary of the Xinhai Revolution, and Dr. Sun's mausoleum has been swarmed with tourists from the Chinese mainland and Taiwan.
"The daily number of tourists has quadrupled compared to previous years," said Yu Jinbao, deputy head of the mausoleum's administration bureau.
In recent years, Dr. Sun's mausoleum has become a sacred place for cross-Strait political and grassroots exchanges.
"As the final resting place of Sun Yat-sen and a memorial for his immortal revolutionary spirit, his mausoleum has significant meaning for compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait," said Sang Dengping, a researcher with the Taiwan Issue Research Center in Jiangsu.
In November last year, the mausoleum scrapped an 80-yuan admission fee that had been in effect for 17 years.
The move was aimed at making valuable historical resources more accessible to ordinary people, said Liao Jinhan, director of the general planning department of the mausoleum's administration bureau.