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UPDATED: September 6, 2010 NO. 36 SEPTEMBER 9, 2010
Architecture Informs History
Clusters of ancient architecture in central China have recently been entered on the world heritage list

WITNESSING HISTORY: An old cypress has stood for more than 1,000 years in the Songyang Acadamy (CFP)

The World Heritage Committee described the property on its official website as "these buildings are reflections of different ways of perceiving the center of Heaven and Earth and the power of the mountain as a center for religious devotion. The historical monuments of Dengfeng include some of the best examples of ancient Chinese buildings devoted to ritual, science, technology and education."

Juliet Ramsay, a cultural heritage expert entrusted by the committee to inspect the historical architectural complexes in Dengfeng, said she found during the inspection the Chinese character zhong, means middle or center, appearing in many inscriptions on steles, a strong indication of how important the concept and thought of "Center of Heaven and Earth" is to the Chinese nation.

Effective measures

Henan is a province with one of the greatest concentrations of cultural relics. The successful bestowal of world heritage status this year will undoubtedly enhance the international reputation of Dengfeng, and even Henan. At the same time, it will help to change tourism patterns in Dengfeng, and greater numbers of foreign visitors are expected in the future.

It took Dengfeng 12 years to become inscribed on the heritage list, but entering the list was not the final goal, said Chen Ailan, Director of the Henan Bureau of Cultural Heritage. "It means that we commit to the world to preserve the heritage well."

In the future, heritage protection work in Dengfeng will focus on two areas: strengthening protection and developing the local economy by proper use of the cultural resource, Chen said.

To better preserve the property, Dengfeng has renovated all the ancient buildings on the site, in accordance with the principle of "keeping the original state and the surrounding environment intact." More than 1,000 old trees and rare plants in the area have also been placed under protection, and more than 300 old and dying trees have been placed in the care of botanists.

The government of Dengfeng has also invested more than 10 million yuan ($1.47 million) in working out a general protection plan for the ancient architecture and detailed protection plans for the 11 historical sites involved.

To monitor the protection of the heritage sites in real time, a large number of cameras will be installed at the 11 sites to detect any damage to historical constructions. Any activities or moves affecting heritage protection will be carefully investigated and any areas in a state of decay will be repaired in time. Equipment to prevent any damages by weather is to be installed to prevent natural disasters.

The local government has also invited architectural experts from Tsinghua University to consult about preservation work, in order to better balance the relationship between economic development and heritage protection. At the same time, through developing tourism in the region properly and strengthening academic exchanges with foreign countries, these cultural monuments will be appreciated by more people.

"Letting more people of different cultural backgrounds appreciate these magnificent ancient architectural classics and understand the history, culture and science of ancient China was the main purpose of our application," said Chen. Next, a series of books, brochures and multimedia forms of materials will be gradually produced to introduce the world heritage site in Dengfeng.

"The number of world heritage sites a country has reflects, in a certain sense, the contribution the people of the country have made to the civilization of human beings in history. On the other hand it means today's people should shoulder their responsibility to preserve these heritages endowed by nature and our ancestors and hand them down to future generations," Chen said.

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