Beijing , 29 July 2008 :Beijing’s historic cultural icons are already celebrating golden times, even before the start of the Olympic Games. The long-awaited event has been the catalyst which has sparked a massive renovation programme for ancient buildings and monuments in and around China’s capital. Over the past eight years, more than one billion yuan (about USD 140 million) has been spent sprucing up some of Beijing’s most important cultural and historic relics ready for the influx of athletes, visitors and media for the Olympic Games.
Huge restoration programme
According to Kong Fanzhi, Director of the Beijing Cultural Relics Protection Bureau, the sum is equivalent to the total amount spent on protecting the city’s cultural heritage in the 110 years up to 1990. The restoration programme has included renovations to several UNESCO World Heritage List sites – the Summer Palace, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Peking Man Site and the Ming Tombs. Work has also been carried out on imperial parks, religious buildings and traditional hutong residential alleyways, and involved the reconstruction of the Ming-era Yongdingmen Gate, demolished in 1957, as part of the restoration of Beijing’s 7.8km central axis.
Traditional culture “the best calling card for Beijing”
Two major Olympic venues – the National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) and National Aquatics Centre (Water Cube) – even had to be moved after the discovery of two ancient temples during construction on their original sites. Recent weeks have seen the reopening of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the largest building in the Forbidden City, as well as the 14th-century Imperial College and Confucian Temple, located in the Yonghe Lamasery. “Based on decades of experience, we believe the best calling card for Beijing is traditional culture, rather than modernity,” said Fanzhi, at the reopening of the lamasery buildings.
Restoration work monitored to ensure authenticity is maintained
UNESCO has monitored restoration work on the listed World Heritage Sites and organised a consultation in May 2007 between Chinese authorities, their conservation experts and those of the United Nations agency and international advisory bodies to discuss conservation techniques at the Forbidden City to ensure the authenticity of the site was being maintained.
Heritage in the forefront: still a huge task
Beatrice Kaldun, Programme Specialist for Culture in UNESCO’s Beijing office credited the “huge efforts” made by authorities in China in recent years, reflected in the types of World Heritage Sites such as the newly-created cultural site of Fujian Tulou, with its traditional round houses. “However, to bring heritage in the forefront is important and also good economics is still a task ahead of us, and China is not alone in this,” she added. “Indeed that is a difficult, but also interesting and important task of UNESCO to make heritage and its protection and importance an issue for everyone, including young people, rather than for a select group of experts and caretakers.”