Dachang, an ancient town hiding in the hinterland of the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River for thousands of years, has been disrupted of its usual quietness.
A red line, reading "submerging line marking 143 meters," has been painted on the ancient city wall, indicating that Dachang with the largest number of ancient buildings in the Three Gorges reservoir area will be inundated when the water storage of the Three Gorges Dam starts.
Chinese cultural relics protection department will launch an ambitious plan to move the whole town to a new site with a total investment of 30 million yuan (US$3.6 million).
"This will be a magnificent feat in the history of ancient building protection," said Liu Yuchuan, an official of Chongqing Municipal Leading Group on Cultural Relics Protection at Three Gorges in southwest China.
The city walls around the tiny town, three ancient city gates at the west, east and south of the town, the stone roads and houses with a history of several hundred years are still well preserved in Dachang. The limpid Daning River, a tributary of the Yangtze River, runs through the town.
"The town has been a flourishing place with merchants from various regions of China gathering there in ancient time," said 60-year-old Wen Guanglin, who sells bean curd, a traditional food, in the town.
Wen inherited the town's largest houses with a courtyard covering about 800 square meters from his ancestors.
He likes his life in the old houses. He likes listening to the drizzles falling onto the ground of the courtyard. And he likes showing visitors his large houses with gray bricks and black tiles richly decorated with carvings and paintings.
However, Wen's houses and courtyard, together with 37 other ancient buildings in Dachang and the city walls, will be moved to a new site 5 kilometers away.
The relocation plan was drawn by experts from the China Institute of Cultural Relics, the Chinese Academy of Construction Survey and Design and other organs.
Each brick, tile and pillar of the ancient buildings will be marked and disassembled, and then restored at the new site. Some parts of the buildings too old to be moved will be replaced by materials similar to the original ones.
Special treatment will be applied to keep the old building materials from termites and rust, experts say.
However, unavoidable damages will be caused to the ancient buildings during the moving, Liu noted, adding that "We will try our best to maintain the original look of the town."
After restoration, Dachang will become a tourist site. Some former residents will be allowed to return to their old houses, and the traditional customs will be preserved, said Liu.
Wen Guanglin's two sons have recently applied to relocate in south China's Guangdong Province, the hometown of the ancestors of Wen's family. They will get a large sum of relocation funds from the local government.
But Wen insisted that they stay there until the old houses are disassembled.
"Maybe I will return to my old house after it is moved," said Wen reluctant to leave.
The Three Gorges Dam, which is under construction, is the world's largest water conservancy project. After the completion of the Three Gorges Dam in 2009, more than 1,100 villages and towns, including ancient towns similar to Dachang, such as Xintan, Yangdu and Xituo on the two banks of the Yangtze River will be inundated, and over 1 million residents in the region will be relocated.
According to a plan made by the Chinese government, 224 sites of ancient buildings with great cultural value, in which 65 percent are traditional residences, in the inundated area will be protected. A total of 118 traditional residences will be moved to new sites and others will be photographed and recorded in documents.
The ancient towns, villages and traditional residences at Three Gorges were preserved involuntarily through history because of the remoteness and underdevelopment of the regions, said Liu.
"Nowadays we will adopt more advanced techniques and measures to actively protect the cultural relics and traditional customs of the region, because they are an important part of the process of civilization development," Liu added.
(People’s Daily 06/23/2001)