Improper cleaning methods have done great damage to the Confucian Temple, the Confucius Family Mansion and the Confucian Cemetery -- all precious cultural relics listed in the United Nation's Catalogue of Global Cultural Heritage Sites -- according to the State Bureau of Cultural Relics.
The three sites are situated in Qufu, the city in east China's Shandong Province which is the birthplace of Confucius, a world-renowned ancient thinker and educator.
The damages have caused enormous losses, said the bureau.
In Mid-December last year, a local company, the China Confucius International Tourism Corp, Ltd, undertook a thorough cleanup of the three sites to celebrate its coming into existence.
Lacking understanding of the techniques of cultural relic protection, the company hosed down the plaques, steles and walls with water. Also, they used other tools to brush filth from the surface of the ancient structures.
As a result, the paint on the walls peeled off and the coloured drawings in many places were damaged. According to sources with the Qufu cultural relics authorities, many peeled-off paint flakes were found on the ground after the cleanup, the diameter of the largest flakes reaching 5 centimetres.
More peeling is expected, since water has seeped into the wooden structures causing the paint to blister, according to specialists.
Water also steeped into the cracks in steles and if the water freezes, the steles will fracture.
The cleaning process also raised humidity levels in the buildings, threatening exhibited relics.
In early January, the State Bureau of Cultural Relics began a thorough investigation into the matter after receiving reports from clerks in the offices of the local cultural relic authorities.
"We are currently discussing how to handle the matter and will report to the State Council immediately," said He Hong, an official at the bureau.
In early December, the Shenzhen Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) Economic Development Co, the local government of Qufu and several other enterprises jointly set up the China Confucius International Tourism Corp, Ltd. The Shenzhen company held 50 percent of the stake.
According to the contract, the new company has managerial authority over eight sites in Qufu, including the Confucian Temple, the Confucius' Family Mansion and the Confucian Cemetery, and is responsible for protecting the cultural relics under its care -- a duty formerly borne by the local cultural relics authority.
However, this is an unlawful practice.
"No commercial companies are allowed to get involved in protecting cultural relics according to relevant laws," said He Hong.
"The practice of the Qufu local government has not been approved by the State Bureau of Cultural Relics and the Shandong provincial government," he added.
He said relics protection, which requires a great deal of professional knowledge, is quite new to the Shenzhen OCT Economic Development Co, though it has been very successful in the travel industry over the past few years.
(China Daily 02/06/2001)