Two alternative proposals designating a buffer zone to protect the Forbidden City in Beijing are open for public review now.
When a final selection is made -- expected by February next year -- the proposal will be submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for review.
The move is a response by the Beijing Municipal Urban Planning Commission and the Beijing Municipal Cultural Relics Bureau to questioning from the World Heritage Committee at its 28th session, in Suzhou, in July. The committee was concerned about changes to the palace's surroundings.
The Forbidden City, known officially as the Palace Museum, was home to the emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1987.
A buffer zone had not been defined by authorities and was not required by the World Heritage Committee. But improper urban planning and development of the areas surrounding the palace in recent years have had a negative impact.
Many traditional lanes and courtyards have been demolished while modern high-rises have been growing in the area.
A protective buffer is urgently needed to protect the cultural relics around the palace, restoring harmony between the palace and its surroundings. Public input on how to achieve that result is being sought.
Both buffer zone proposals have the same core areas, including the "imperial city" zone surrounding the Forbidden City.
Covering an area of 597 hectares, the zone includes most of the sites where the imperial family once worked, lived, played and offered sacrifices. It is located between Chang'an Avenue and Di'anmen Street in Xicheng District.
Generally, the imperial city zone, which includes such locations as Beihai Park, Zhongnanhai, former imperial compounds and the Imperial Ancestral Temple, has been well protected. Many traditional hutong (small lanes) and siheyuan (courtyard homes) still exist in the zone.
The first proposal suggests the buffer zone only include the imperial city area.
The second proposal calls for a much larger protected area, comprising 1,463 hectares stretching from Chang'an Avenue to North Second Ring Road. It would include the Forbidden City, the imperial city area, and a controlled development area.
People can offer their ideas and comments on the two proposals online at www.bjww.gov.cn.
(China Daily September 6, 2004)