A tsunami of destruction threatens worldwide heritage

By Gabrielle Pickard
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China.org.cn, January 24, 2010
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Three decades of aggressive development, illegal mining, natural disasters and crime have had major implications on China's sites of historical and cultural importance. An examination carried out by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), revealed that new buildings, roads and reservoirs have replaced sites, which were previously listed as places of national heritage. The report even unveiled that illegal mining in Inner Mongolia destroyed a large part of the Great Wall. Heritage places were recorded in 1982 and according to officials from SACH, some 30,995 items from this list has vanished.

It is not just large-scale construction and infrastructure projects which are causing the destruction of China's heritage. Natural disasters and crime is also contributing to the country's vanishing ancient relics.

Despite China's dedication to economic expansion and extensive infrastructure, there is concern that its heritage is slowly disappearing. Liu Xiaohe, deputy director of the report, said that appropriate intervention is being carried out to protect cultural sites and that the country spent 300m yuan relocating the ancient Zhangfei temple when the construction of the Three Gorges dam threatened its survival.

The destruction of China's history and culture is the latest account of a string of negative reports surrounding China's "aggressive" approaches to achieving global economic hegemony, particularly by the British press. When in reality China is just one nation of many across the globe to be witnessing many of its historic architecture being knocked down and crudely replaced by modern and meaningless structures.

In Russia, much of the delightful history and culture in many of the country's great cities is being substituted for "ill-proportioned concrete giants," with the situation becoming worse every year. The depressing trend is particularly visible in the historical city Samara. A panel of Russian and British architects from Europe's Heritage and the Moscow Architect Preservation Society, insist that since the end of the Soviet Union, the striking neoclassical and art nouveau post-war buildings in Samara are slowly being destroyed by corrupt local officials and businessmen and are being replaced by office blocks.

Konstantin Mikhailov, an architectural historian, warned about the future of Russia's heritage at a recent Press Conference in Moscow: "In the next 10 to 15 years our historical visual culture will have gone."

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) outlined the threats posed by the changing climate on sites of historical and cultural significance across the globe. UNESCO's report featured 26 case studies of destruction caused by the changing weather on buildings inscribed on the World Heritage list, including the Tower of London and the Great Barrier Reef. In the publication Koichiro Matsuura, the director general of UNESCO, calls for an "integrated approach of issues of environmental preservation and sustainable development."

In France, in an attempt to maintain their uniqueness and discover their "inner self," President Sarkozy has announced to pump a 35 billion euro "big loan" into France's suffering universities and cultural sector. Unwilling to allow his country to be "robbed" of its cultural identity by economical and technological development, Sarkozy warned at a recent conference that he would not allow France to participate in Google's plan to scan books for publication in its online library, saying, "this too is a question of identity."

While in Britain many of the country's historical battlefields are being ploughed over for farming or congealed with bricks and mortar, as British history is slowly disappearing under development. Although in the UK it is only the highbrow and more environmentally-conscious newspapers who seem concerned about their country's heritage being replaced by commercialism, as capitalism prevails over tradition. Many less "eco-sensitive" British newspapers seem confident the problem is confined to China, where apparently nothing stands in the way of achieving worldwide economic domination.

While investigations made by organization such as SACH and UNESCO may provide concrete evidence that sites of historical and cultural importance are in decline, the definition of what is considered to be "cultural heritage" has changed throughout the decades. Therefore trying to grasp an exact figure on the number of heritage sites still in existence is a less concrete. Deciding what is worthy of maintaining and bestowing for the pleasure of future generations is an evolving and ambiguous task, as what may be considered as cultural heritage by one generation may be rejected by the next.

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