The renovation of six World Cultural Heritage sites in Beijing, home of the XXIX Olympiad, will go into high gear this year. In 2003, the Beijing Municipal Cultural Relics Bureau formulated the Cultural Relics Protection Plan for the 2008 Olympics. The sites included in the plan are: the Peking Man ruins at Zhoukoudian, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City and the Ming Tombs.
The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace, in northwest suburban Beijing, was first built in the 12th century as an imperial garden. The emphasis of this year's renovation project is on the refurbishment of Foxiangge (Pavilion of Buddhist Fragrance) and Paiyundian (Cloud Dispersing Hall), two scenic spots situated on the 58-meter-high Longevity Hill.
Several renovations in the course of their history have partially changed the original appearances of the eight-sided, three-story Pavilion of Buddhist Fragrance and Cloud Dispersing Hall, where Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) celebrated her birthdays. The current project will restore both buildings to their original appearance as described in historical documents.
Specific measures include substituting traditional gray bricks for the cement bricks currently paving the floor; and inspecting and repairing all sloped, double-eaved roofs and carved brackets supporting the overhanging eaves from the columns.
Some of the paintings that adorn in the Long Corridor, which links the scenic spots on the south side of Longevity Hill, will be replaced. Changes will be limited to those that are not historically accurate.
The Forbidden City
The massive renovation of the Forbidden City -- the most extensive since the Qing Dynasty was toppled in 1911 -- will continue through 2020.
Besides the ongoing overhaul of the Wuyingdian (Hall of Martial Prowess), which started on October 17, 2002, Wumen (Meridian Gate) and Yanxi Hall will be added to this year's work schedule.
The Meridian Gate, the main entrance to the Forbidden City, was first built in 1420 and remodeled in 1647. Five structures above the gate, commonly known as the Five Phoenix Towers, as well as adjoining corridors are to be repaired.
In 1908, Empress Dowager Longyu provided funds to build the glass-walled Lingzhao Pavilion in Yanxi Palace. Construction was brought to an abrupt halt by the outbreak of the Revolution of 1911, which eventually overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Work to be done on the building includes reinforcing bearing columns, replacing rusted parts and repairing stone steps to the pool garden in the hall.
The first 500,000-year-old Peking Man skull was unearthed in 1929 at Longgu (Dragon Bone) Hill, northwest of Zhoukoudian, in the southwest suburbs of Beijing. The discovery made Zhoukoudian world famous.
China put the site under state protection for key cultural relics in 1961, and in 1987 it was included on UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage list.
Unfortunately, in the recent years rock mining, in addition to erosion from the elements, has accelerated damage to the already worsening natural environment around the prehistoric site.
On August 12, 2003, the Beijing Municipal Cultural Relics Bureau held a seminar on protection of Zhoukoudian. The Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences was assigned to conduct a thorough field investigation. Scientists determined that a total of seven fossil sites at Zhoukoudian were in dangerous condition.
As a result, a program for the preservation of Peking Man relics is now being developed and is expected to be completed this month. The program will get under way immediately after receiving approval from authorities.
The Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven, located in southeastern central Beijing, is China's largest existing complex of ancient ceremonial buildings. After its completion in 1420, some 22 emperors conducted splendid sacrificial rituals here. Qiniandian (Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests) has become a world-famous symbol of Beijing City.
However, several renovations over the centuries have changed the exterior of the hall, and it now clashes with the ancient buildings that surround it.
This year's refurbishment will focus on restoring the original appearance of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Tasks will also include clearing weeds from the roof; repairing the broken eaves; replacing the pavement with gray brick; and protecting all the stone sections, including the dragon-head carvings, from weathering.
The Great Wall
Maintenance and repair of the Great Wall, which stretches some 6,700 kilometers across China, is an overwhelming task. The Beijing Municipal Cultural Relics Bureau has adopted a sector-by-sector solution to this problem, and chosen the Simatai section of the Great Wall as this year's priority renovation project.
The Simatai Great Wall lies on steep mountain slopes in Miyun County, on the northern border of the greater Beijing area. Simatai has more beacon towers than other sections of the Great Wall, with the two closest standing just under 44 meters apart, and the two farthest, 600 meters.
Using traditional materials and technologies, workers will repair and consolidate gates, battlements and wall sections that have already partially collapsed. In addition, lightning conductors will be attached to iron and steel support struts and railings that have recently been added to the wall.
The Ming Tombs
Thirteen Ming Dynasty emperors were buried in the tombs built from the 15th to 17th centuries in a broad valley at the foot of Tianshou (Heavenly Longevity) Mountain in Changping District, about 50 km north of Beijing.
The Beijing municipal government declared the Ming Tombs a protected site in 1957, and four years later it was placed under state protection for key cultural relics. At the 27th session of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee in July 2003, the site was officially included on the World Cultural Heritage list.
Beijing has already begun its program to renovate the Ming Tombs. Work on the Deling and Kangling tombs began in 2002. Consolidation of the walls surrounding the Kangling Tomb and clearing of its drainage ditches should be completed this year.
Repairs on the Qingling and Tailing tombs will begin this year.
The Qingling Tomb was built for Zhu Changluo, the 14th emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and his three wives. The surrounding walls, minglou (the tallest building above ground at an emperor's mausoleum), single-arched stone bridge and drainage systems are included in the list of items to be repaired.
The Tailing Tomb was built for Zhu Youtang, the 9th Ming emperor. The walls around the tomb will be consolidated and the drainage ditches cleared.
When the renovations are complete, the visitors and athletes who come to Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games will be able to see the best of the city's long history and profound cultural legacy.
(China.org.cn by Shao Da, February 25, 2004)