May Entrance Ticket Save Cultural Relics?

"Maintaining cultural relics by themselves" has been a hot topic in recent years. It is argued that cultural relics units can obtain profit through opening up to the public and charging an entrance fee. This provides them with funds for maintenance and they no longer have to rely on the limited government budget. The Mogao Grottos, for example, can get 20 to 30 million yuan each year from charging the public for entrance. The profit of Yungang and Longmen grottos also exceed 10 million yuan per year respectively.

However, the famous Maiji Grottos is an unhappy exception. The grottos, which enjoy equal fame with those previously mentioned, earns at best only 2 million yuan a year. The sum seems to be an astronomical figure in the eyes of common people, but it is almost nothing for maintaining the grottos.

Maiji Grottos possess the only large-scale clay figure models in China, or even in the world.

The history of the Maiji Grottos can be traced back over 1,500 years. Totally different from Mogao Grottos in Gansu Province, Yungang Grottos in Shanxi Province and Longmen Grottos in Henan Province, the Maiji Grottos are all made of clay. They contain the only large-scale clay figure models in China, or even in the world.

Maiji Mountain, located in the eastern part of northwest China's Gansu Province, consists of natural gravel, which is easier to be dug for opening caves than for carving statues. Workmen could not engrave the josses directly as was the case with the Yungang or Longmen grottos. Instead, they had to do it with soft clay, which could be easily molded to display vivid expressions.

The mountain was parted from the middle because of a violent earthquake in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and one statue toppled down because of a passing plane last May.

Maiji Mountain happens to stand on the active seismic fault line. Historical books show that 18 earthquakes, large or small, occurred during the long time, with the most violent one happening during the Tang Dynasty that almost destroyed all the Buddhist statues in the caves.

After that earthquake, the mountain collapsed from the middle and many of the supporting pillars in the caves were broken. Fortunately, it only changed the original look of the mountain, while most of the statues in the caves escaped by sheer chance.

In order to avoid more catastrophes, the government invested a large sum to wholly consolidate the mountain between 1976-84, wrapping the natural gravel with reinforced concrete from the surface.

The statues should have rested safely after the renovation. However, one of them toppled down, this time, because of a plane passing over the mountain. There is a military airport 30 kilometers away. One day last May, one of the statues collapsed from the shockwaves generated by a jet flying overhead. The relic protection staff had no choice but to collect all the pieces to try to restore it later.

Water seepage is the fatal matter to the grottos

There are many other problems, however, including frescos fading. The local people are broken-hearted when they see the frescos gradually fade day by day.

In fact, water seepage is the hardest nut to crack, especially as the impact is not immediately apparent. But the statues will gradually become soft and suffer severe erosion until all the outer surfaces peel off and wholly disappear.

The cultural relic protection departments have called together experts many times and have finally worked out a practical and feasible plan. However, the work needs fresh funding, posing a headache for the local authority, as it is impossible to collect such a large sum of money in a short time. In these circumstances, the plans have to be laid aside and the Maiji Mountain will also have to wait in silence.

Is it practicable to protect the cultural relics by itself?

It is a commonly recognized fact that the sums from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the related local authorities are far from meeting requirements. Nowadays, many cultural relics have to be opened to the public in order to obtain more income for maintenance.

The Forbidden City in Beijing and Terracotta Warriors and Horses in Xi'an, for example, can get several hundred millions of yuan respectively each year and Mogao Grottos also over 30 million yuan. With the increasing number of travelers pouring in, new problems appear. Travelers have to wear special kinds of shoes before they can go into the Forbidden City,

which has been damaged by hundred of thousands of people visiting it year after year. The frescos in Mogao Grottos have suffered from the carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

The cultural relics protection departments and travel agencies always face a paradox. Travel agencies stick to opening all the cultural relics to the public, while cultural relics protection departments are more concerned about how to protect the relics. However, these cannot continue to survive without the financial support. On all accounts, the key problem that cultural relics confront is the money problem, which can only be effectively dealt with by the means of tourism nowadays.

Qi Dongfang, an archeological professor with Peking University, tends towards the protection of the cultural relics as the first priority, arguing, "It is by no means a long-term strategy to protect cultural relics this way. For cultural relics are not resources, and they will never reappear once damaged."

The key point is how to raise the awareness of the whole society towards the protection of cultural relics. Nowadays, many enterprises want to sponsor sporting events rather than investing in the cultural relics protection. The local authority once offered that anyone willing to invest in the Maiji Grottos could hang his portrait on the gate to achieve public recognition. But, so far, there has been no response.

Professor Qi pointed out that the cultural relics are an important section of a nation's culture. Even a small-sized American museum can attract many visitors, but such a thing is impossible in China. Both government and the public should pay more attention to this matter. Only in this way can more people and enterprises attach great importance to the cultural relics protections.

( 06/14/2001)

In This Series

Development Copes With Cultural Heritage

Expertise Wanted in Antique Collection

Maintain Our Cultural Diversity

Planning for Cultural Relics Protection Zones Completed

Cultural Relics Need Protection

Preservation Plan Hammered Out

China to Save Endangered Bronze Drums

Plan for Preserving Three Gorges Relics

Protection of Cultural Relics Urged in West China



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