Shanxi Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region turned out to be the biggest winners in a new round of National Cultural Heritage Sites of China site selections, the results of which were released last week in Beijing.
More than 500 cultural heritage sites across the country were listed by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH).
This pushed the total list number to 1,268.
This is the fifth time for the government to issue a list of national cultural heritage sites in 40 years. This list is the longest ever.
The list contains 144 ancient relics, 50 ancient tombs, 248 architecture sites, 31 caves and stone carvings and some 45 sites related to China's modern history.
Shanxi, one of the origin points of Chinese civilization in North China, has 53 architecture sites, the most in that category for the entire country.
These ancient architecture sites, characterized by religious temples and Buddhist pagodas, date from as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1279) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
The Qiao's Courtyard, the Qing Dynasty residence complex where famous director Zhang Yimou filmed his award-winning Raise the Red Lantern, is also included in the list.
The reason that so many ancient architectural sites in Shanxi were selected lies in the change in the standards of review, which have been followed for more than three years, according to Zhang Wenbin, director of the administration.
China's ancient architecture was primarily of wood and brick and very susceptible to weathering.
"The earlier the time, the fewer the number of surviving architectural sites," Zhang said. "We decided this time that all the architectural sites left from before the Song Dynasty or Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) should be included to ensure their preservation."
Shanxi, where Buddhism and Taoism flourished, therefore became the largest beneficiary.
Xinjiang also stands out in the cultural relics category with 16 sites selected there out of the total of 144.
Most of them are the ruins of ancient cities, mosques and temples that give evidence of the past glories of the silk road where various civilizations once converged and flourished.
Zhang also noted the prominence of Xinjiang as a land abounding in cultural heritage sites, saying more cultural sites there are expected to be listed as national cultural heritages in future selections.
The sites were selected from a total of 1,120 proposed by provincial governments across the country and are of major historical, artistic and scientific value, said Zhang.
The survey by SACH suggests that China now has approximately 400,000 immovable cultural heritage sites, both above ground and underground.
The cultural heritage sites of China are divided into three levels, namely the national, provincial and county levels, with the national level regarded as being the most culturally significant.
"The fact that this namelist contains the largest ever number of sites reflects our concern about protection of our cultural heritage in the face of rapid urbanization," said Zhang.
The list issued last week is the result of five years of scrutiny by panels of experts that took up from the work of the fourth listing.
Zhang noted that this was an attempt to bring as many valuable cultural sites as possible under protection.
According to China's Law on Protection of Cultural Heritage Sites, governments at all levels are obligated to pay from their budgets the maintenance and repair costs of the listed sites in their territory.
Zhang attributed the sharp increase in numbers to the inclusion of many ancient residential architectural sites. "We once focused our attention on royal architecture," Zhang said, "But the historical and cultural value of ancient residential architectural sites, especially those of the ethnic minorities, are drawing more and more attention. That's why so many residential sites are included.”
(China Daily 07/20/2001)