Historic monuments in Dengfeng, formally referred to as the Center of Heaven and Earth, in Henan Province, as well as Danxia Landform in several southern and eastern Chinese provinces, were proclaimed UNESCO world heritage sites recently.
The group of constructions in Dengfeng includes some of the best examples of ancient Chinese buildings devoted to rituals, science, technology and education. Most of the constructions present vividly a history of central China's architecture from the last 2,000 years and contain very valuable material for studies.
Danxia Landform is the base of natural landscapes in the nominated site. It contains rare and unique landscapes, with outstanding scientific and aesthetic values. These are distributed both densely and sparsely in picturesque disorder, especially the fantastically shaped peaks and pictographic stones. With these two new additions, China now has 40 sites on the UNESCO cultural and natural heritage list.
China has made achievements in its heritage protection that it can be proud of, but challenges exist and are worrisome.
For local governments where these sites are administrated, applications for the UNESCO world heritage listings were costly and lengthy. Once they succeed, only flocks of tourists from home and abroad and booms in tourism can compensate for the spending.
Substantial economic gains could be the most direct and obvious change brought by the successful bestowing of world heritage status. For local governments and the protectors, there remains the difficult task of finding balances between greater economic benefits and better conservation.
Nevertheless, being on the list of the world heritages represents a commitment to the international community. When our landscape or culture becomes the heritage of mankind, the responsibilities on our shoulders are much heavier than before. We need to protect the heritage well and hand it, in good shape, to our descendents, instead of seeking quick results and instantaneous gains. We also need to avoid overdevelopment of these sites.
In this sense, the success of applications has become more a restriction than a boost to the development of heritage sites. Sustainability should become the priority of development and protection should top development.
To protect these sites, China has now established a monitoring system at state, provincial and local levels, to manage the protection network in a comprehensive manner. A dedicated organization has also been set up to put increasing efforts into carrying out active and reactive monitoring work. Certainly, these measures will greatly enhance protection efforts.
Besides passing new legislation, what is more important to the protection of the sites is the social awareness and atmosphere of cherishing our traditional culture and natural landscape. Cultural and natural heritage is a vital carrier of Chinese history and culture.
Letting more people of different cultural backgrounds appreciate this magnificent architecture and landscapes, to understand our history, culture and science should be the main purpose of applying for being included in the UNESCO list in the first place. The consensus to pass our culture down intact, for the sake of the Chinese nation, as well as for mankind, needs to be fostered gradually. This will be more enduring than the initiative of applying for listings.