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Beijing Relic Protection 'Top Priority'
Beijing has made increasing efforts to protect relics even as it becomes a modern international metropolis, Vice-Mayor Zhang Mao told the first day of a relics protection conference yesterday.

Under the principle of "subordinating development to preservation" established by municipal leaders in 1997, the capital city has managed several major construction projects in a way that protects its ancient treasures, Zhang told the conference, attended by 200 historians and cultural experts.

He gave the example of how many heritage sites were kept intact during the extension of Ping'an Avenue, which runs straight across the city from west to east.

He said that, in a period of rapid economic development and burgeoning construction, the responsibility for safeguarding and preserving ancient treasures was even more important because people can build many modern projects but can never recreate the past.

Reviewing the work of heritage protection over the past few years, Zhang said ancient treasures can only be better preserved if various departments worked together.

"Besides the cultural relics administrations, other departments -- such as construction, industry and commerce, public security, city planning and customs -- should all accept responsibility for preserving the city's relics well," said Zhang, who is in charge of cultural issues in Beijing.

For a long period of time, some district and county-level leaders unilaterally emphasized economic development and did not sufficiently protect historical heritage, said Zhang.

Furthermore, people in some areas even indiscriminately developed heritage sites into tourist attractions and occupied ancient buildings without having them repaired, which greatly damaged the historic and cultural relics, Zhang added.

For instance, peddlers put up unauthorized ticket booths and ladders along the wilder sections of the Great Wall and collected money from tourists.

Mei Ninghua, director of the Beijing Cultural Relics Bureau, said: "The dilemma between safeguarding the past while continuing to build the future seems to be becoming sharper during the period of rapid economic growth."

The director said his bureau would work with other government departments to ensure that the newly revised Law on Cultural Relics Protection and other local rules and regulations on the issue are implemented.

Over the next five years, repairs to dangerous ancient buildings should be carried out based on their original structures and no extensions or alterations should be allowed," said Zhang.

Beijing now has 3,553 officially recognized historic and cultural relics, including five sites on the world heritage list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and 60 sites under state protection.

(China Daily February 27, 2003)

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