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China's Calligraphic Sanctum Under Threat of Ruin

The Orchid Pavilion in east China, the Mecca for Chinese calligraphers, is under threat from a huge reserve of iron ore slag nearby that is on the brink of spilling over.


Located in Shaoxing, a scenic city in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the Orchid Pavilion, or the Lanting in Chinese, has been a revered place for calligraphers for dozens of centuries.


It was here that Wang Xizhi, honored as the "king of Chinese calligraphy" in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420), wrote his masterpiece, the Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Poems, in a grand gathering of his contemporary calligraphers.


However, the 115-meter-high slag pit, on the hillside overlooking the Orchid Pavilion, has been swelling to a dangerous level and is likely to spill over the dam holding the more than 10 million cubic meters of iron ore waste.


If the dam collapses, the waste inside will pour down and swallow the whole Orchid Pavilion site and three villages nearby, according to Hou Deqian, chief designer of the protection and renovation project of the Orchid Pavilion. The project was launched by the local government to commemorate the 1,700th anniversary of Wang's birth and the 1,650th anniversary of the writing of his masterpiece.


The company in charge of the pit argued that the use of the reserve had been approved by the provincial administration of production safety and did not believe the site would be damaged.


But a report released by the company itself revealed that the design and construction of the waste pit did not meet safety standards and the dam had been listed as dangerous by the then Ministry of Metallurgical Industry.


According to the provincial administration of production safety, it did approve the pit in March, but suggested the dam be assessed once every two years and relevant safety measures be taken to guarantee the safety of the Orchid Pavilion.


Cultural and historical experts from Shaoxing City insisted that the safety and integrity of the Orchid Pavilion should not be neglected and they urged an immediate end to the use of the iron waste pit.


(Xinhua News Agency August 24, 2003)

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