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Suzhou Strives to Protect Ancient City

Suzhou, known as the "Oriental Venice" in east China's Jiangsu Province, has made painstaking efforts to preserve the city's unique ancient features.

As part of the 28th Session of the World Heritage Committee, which was scheduled from June 28 to July 7 in Suzhou, a world heritage exhibition will be held in the city from June 26 to July 15.

Suzhou Mayor Yang Weize said that the ancient city of Suzhou, covering 14 square km, has established its own character over the past centuries.

The city, still standing at the same location for more than 2,500 years, has preserved its double chessboard layout of water and land, canals and streets, and its unique landscape of "small bridge, flowing water, white wall, black tile, cultural relics and classic gardens".

In today's city, Yang said, no architecture is allowed to exceed 24 meters in height, and hundreds of ancient buildings and classic gardens are preserved. Among the local residents, local art forms like Pingtan and Kunqu, conceptualized as intangible culture heritage, are passed on generation by generation.

Suzhou makes the achievements thanks to an important strategy of building new cities to lessen the burden of the ancient city, the mayor said. While building up three major new cities around the ancient districts, the local government forbids building and expanding roads and construction, and has removed some factories to decrease population.

"In this way, the center of the ancient city is better protected," said Yang. Suzhou has spent 150 million yuan (around US$18 million) in reconstruction of the ancient city, and will invest 6 billion yuan (US$722 million) to bring in water from Taihu Lake and Yangtze River to enliven the canals. The local government has also vowed to remove all factories out in three years.

The classic gardens of Suzhou have been listed among the World's Heritage in 1997 as a whole, and the ancient city is also applying for listing as a World Culture Heritage. Yang said Suzhou has issued the first local law in China to protect its classic gardens, and is dedicated to promoting heritage protection.

He also admitted that Suzhou, with more than 200 national and provincial cultural heritage sites, faces big challenges in heritage protection. Therefore, the local government is encouraging businesses to join the protection work, such as transferring or selling operation rights of the ancient architecture to individuals, or giving subsidies to residents who volunteer to reconstruct the ancient house they live in.

Suzhou has also drawn some foreign investment to protect intangible heritage like Kunqu, Yang added.

The current status of the ancient city protection still needs improving, said Yang, which includes the construction of water system and infrastructure, as well as improving architecture quality.
(Xinhua News Agency April 17, 2004)

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