Beijing stepping up efforts to protect historical and cultural relics#Oriental Outlook#-Sino-US

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Beijing stepping up efforts to protect historical and cultural relics#Oriental Outlook#

Beijing has been stepping up efforts to protect its historical and cultural sites in recent years, in a bid to burnish the image of the city as a center of national politics, culture, international exchanges as well as technology and innovation.

During an inspection tour in Beijing in 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping compared the rich historical and cultural relics of Beijing to a “golden name card” of the city, and said that it is one of the duties of the capital to inherit and protect the relics, from ancient walls, houses and imperial palaces, to ancient temples and hutongs.

The central government’s call was echoed by the Beijing municipal government which in March this year said that it will put more efforts into protecting the city’s historical and cultural relics.

In the 16th issue of the Oriental Outlook, the magazine ran a cover story on the ongoing efforts Beijing has been making to shine its “golden name card”, and below is an excerpt of the article.

Old city

While the old city of Beijing covers only about 62.5 square kilometers, it houses more than 30% of the municipal or national level historical and cultural sites under government protection.

“The old city has a key role in making Beijing a historical and cultural city,” said Shu Xiaofeng, director of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage.

According to Zhang Jun (pseudonym), a Beijinger living near Di’an Gate, one of the imperial gates in Beijing, the old city of Beijing which includes Xicheng and Dongcheng districts have been reconstructed three times in the recent five decades- the first in 1950s, then from the opening up policy to the end of the 20th century, and the third time in the first few years of the 21st century.

While renovations of inner city in the past few decades were driven by the country’s rapidly growing economy, the traditional sites such as hutongs and courtyards were severely damaged.

Under the national policy to make Beijing the historical and cultural center, the city is now stepping up efforts to reallocate its city resources such as constructing a “sub-center” in east Beijing’s Tongzhou, and move part of non-capital functions to neighboring cities.

In a guideline on the city plan issued in 2016, Beijing put forward an idea of “all-round protection” mechanism in a bid to protect the historical and cultural sites in the city.

The historical and cultural city protection committee of Beijing explained that an “all-round protection” doesn’t just mean renovating historical relics, raising tourism, and demolishing dangerous houses, but also includes improving livelihood, improving environment, displacing industries, as well as relieving population pressure, so as to achieve economic, social, cultural and ecological effects.

Central Axis

The Central Axis is the best preserved core area of the old city of Beijing, which has an 800 year of history in urban development.

It is 7.8 kilometers long, starting in the south of the city at Yongding Gate, then running across Zhengyang Gate, Tian'anmen Square, Forbidden City, and Jingshan Hill, before ending at the Drum and Bell Towers in the north.

Since the Yuan Dynasty, the Central Axis has played a significant role in Beijing’s urban plan.

In 2012, the Central Axis of Beijing (including Beihai) was included in a tentative list of the UNESCO Cultural Heritage and the city is continuing its bid to apply for UNESCO World Heritage recognition for the Central Axis.

Over the past five years, Beijing has invested 500 million yuan on the renovation of historical sites alongside the Central Axis including the Temple of Heaven, Jingshan Park, Shejitan, as well as some sites on the tentative heritage list like Beihai, Dagao Xuandian, and Di’gan Gate. This year, the city will also start renovation of Zhengyang Gate and Tian’anmen.

“(The Central Axis of Beijing) has influenced the city’s development since ancient times. It tells a positive story of China and has significant meaning and value to both China and the world,” said Lv Zhou, dean of the School of Architecture of Tsinghua University.

According to a new city plan, the Central Axis of Beijing will extend to the Olympic Park in the north and to the south of Yongding Gate in order to ease traffic pressure.

In 2012, Beijing increased the budget for historical and cultural sites protection to 1 billion yuan from 150 million yuan, and the focus is on the renovation of sites on and alongside the Central Axis.

In 2016, the application of the Central Axis of Beijing as the UNESCO World Heritage was incorporated into a government work report of Beijing. According to Kong Fanzhi, former head of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage, to designate the Central Axis as world heritage, the main work will include renovation of ancient constructions, evacuation, as well as environmental improvement, among which relocation of residents and evacuation of historical sites would be the most difficult parts.

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