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Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP) is a small grassroots, legally-registered NGO working to protect cultural heritage across China.

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Heritage Trail project

CHP Report: The Culteral Heritage Survey Conducted on the Historical and Cultural Protected Areas Outside of Beijing Old City

1. Survey Goals and Procedure

a. Goals

In June 14th, China celebrated its third annual “Cultural Heritage Day” designed to promote and celebrate cultural relics in China. The two previous celebrations used well-known and appreciated sites within China, such as World Heritage-level sites as well as important archaeological sites, to stimulate interest and awareness for what we now call “cultural heritage.” As Cultural Heritage Protection is a relatively new concept, such events are crucial for raising the level of public awareness and understanding of its meaning and importance. However, with the government and media focusing so intensely on already well-known sites, the public easily overlooks other equally important but less ideally preserved and less well-known places. The 10 Historical and Cultural Protected Areas which located outside of Beijing’s Old City are victims of this situation. Overlooked by the public on a large scale, they easily fall into neglect.

However, these 10 Historical and Cultural Protected Areas still retain their own flavors, and just like well-known areas. Their greatest value lies in the residents, the traditional lifestyle and sense of community that are still entirely preserved. In short, it is not only important to protect buildings for their historical value, but also because they are an integral part of the lives and community of the local residents.

From the legal perspective, the Protected Areas outside of the Old City are also included in the 2002 “Beijing Historic City Protection Plan” and are directly incorporated into Beijing’s City Planning. So for all intents and purposes, the 10 areas outside of the Old City are lawfully protected areas. However, even under this legal status, they still do not receive the respect that they deserve.

In solving this problem, conducting a survey project on the Protected Areas outside of Beijing’s Old City has many benefits. On one hand it helps us to better understand the traditional Chinese familes’ lives, and on the other hand it is a great opportunity to raise awareness of basic Cultural Protection laws. In order to achieve this, CHP conducted a large-scale survey in the Protected Areas, amassing nearly 200 volunteers with the hope that through this process, not only could a proper understanding of the condition of the Protected Areas be achieved, but that this information could also be brought into the public domain, stimulating the interest of people from all walks of life.

b. Procedure

The planning for the survey project began in mid-April. The surveys took place over three weekends, in seven planned routes crossing all 10 Protected Areas. The survey style was a combination of specialized surveys and sampling surveys, with CHP taking all responsibility for the data collection. Data was divided into two components; that regarding “The Protected Area”, and that regarding “The Local Inhabitants and Visitors.” To address these two different sets of questions, a combination of on-site interviews, discussions, observations and photographs were used to collect a wide array of information.

2. Scope and Completion

a. The survey covered all of the 10 Protected Areas outside of Beijing’s Old City. This included:

Sanjia Dian, Moshi Kou, Jiaozhuang Hu, Xijiao Qingdai Huang Jia Yuanlin, Gubei Kou, Yaoqiaoyu and Xiaokou, Chundixia Chun, Chaodao Cheng, Yulin Bao, and Lugou Qiao Wanpingcheng.

Local inhabitants, visitors to the area, and local Protected Area staff were the main sample group. Interviewees were asked about their understanding and opinion of “Cultural Heritage,” Cultural Protection laws and regulations. On the Protected Area itself, basic information was collected, including the area management, its condition and commercialization.

b. Result

Volunteers conducted 528 the Local Inhabitants and Visitors interviews and wrote 15 reports on the Protected Areas.

3. Issues

a. Through the survey, CHP found some challenges facing these Protected Areas.

  • Many areas lacked clear signs to denote their Historical and Cultural Protected status. In theory, Protected Areas should have a sign that makes clear their Historical and Cultural Protected status. It should read something like “Jing Xi Historic Road”, “Yuan Ming Yuan Heritage Site”, and so on. However, in the 10 Protected Areas outside of the Old City, 9 of these had no sign whatsoever, or at least not one that could be found. This is somewhat concerning; without clear identification, these places essentially are not considered as the Historical and Cultural Protected Areas. Even if the public is fully aware of Cultural Protection Law, but since the public is not informed of the Historical and Cultural Protected status of these areas, no preservation effort would be initiated. This presents a great challenge to any further steps in cultural protection.
  • Aside from the typical tourist destinations, Protected Areas lack clear governmental management. According to the survey, the governance of most of these Protected Areas are divided between the Cultural Bureau and Management Bureaus of local government, community councils, or something similar. Because these Bureaus all have different functions and authority, it is very difficult to pinpoint local Cultural Protection departments with dedicated staff. For instance, no information could be found on the Cultural Protection management apparatus in more than half of the Protected Areas.
  • Lack of planning in refurbishing and repairing of buildings in Protected Areas.
  • Within the Old City, Protected Areas are subjected to strict planning, and their appearance is under tight control, with many restrictions and procedures for repairs and refurbishments. On the contrary, residents outside the Old City enjoy the lack of similar controls and regulations. They  often freely and randomly change the appearance of their houses; some take the tiles off their roof, some get aluminum window frames, some put up huge shop signs, and some add modern extensions to their houses, sometimes including a second story. These haphazard changes and alterations result in a chaotic overall image, distorting and ruining the traditional feel of Protected Areas.

b. Commercialization’s impact on Protected Areas.

The challenges that the Historical and Cultural Protected Areas faces are two-folds.

I. Loss of area vitality and sense of a living community due to the lack of economic development and active area protection. Inhabitants of old buildings cannot afford to repair or refurbish their residences and are often forced to move away. The Protected Areas become lifeless, dilapidated neighborhoods. For instance, only six families remain residing in Xiao Kou. Moshi Kou and Yulin Bao, among others, are also suffering from this problem in different degrees.

II. Contradiction in commercialization and cultural protection. In Yao Qiao Yu, an area very close to Xiao Kou, almost all of Yao Qiao Yu’s residents have moved to further locations, leaving their old homes spruced up with modern facades for tourists. The area has been given a new face at the expense of its previous historical value, as these newly-renovated buildings no longer represent the local customs and traditions which once were the main components of the area.

c. Areas of improvement:

  • Some of the “Protected Areas” lack buildings of any historical value. This raises a question of its Historical and Cultural Protected status. E.g. Yulin Bao.
  • Protected Areas largely lack related management regulations and staff. E.g. Xiao Kou, Yao Qiao Yu.
  • Serious problem of commercialization with no appropriate regulating system. E.g. Chundixia.
  • Inadequate measures needed for better services in Protected Areas. E.g. Yuanming Yuan.

d. Lack of public knowledge and awareness of Protected Areas

  • 16% of interviewees did not know they lived in a Cultural Protected Area.
  • 17% of interviewees did not know that in a Cultural Protected Area, they could not demolish their house or move out at will.
  • 75% of interviewees did not know anything about Beijing City Government’s Cultural Heritage Protection Laws and Regulations whatsoever.
  • 80% of interviewees had never heard of “Cultural Heritage Day.”

e. The attitude of the public towards cultural protection needs to be changed urgently.

  • When asked about who plays the largest role in the protection of cultural heritage, 73% of interviewees said “government”, whereas only 15% said “ordinary people”, another 8% said “media” (percentages taken from sample of 412). This information highlights an pressing challenge in informing ordinary people to actively participate in cultural heritage protection.
  • Local recommendations for improving cultural protection in their area include:

i. Cultural protection starts within oneself. People should not destroy cultural relics or buildings and architecture. They should learn and advocate information on cultural heritage protection.

ii. The government should vigorously raise awareness about cultural heritage protection and its importance on the national scale. It should strive to properly plan and manage the Historical and Cultural Protected Areas.

iii. Development of tourism in Protected Areas should be conducted appropriately, maintaining a traditional feel and appearance.

4. Post Project

a. This report will soon be released on CHP’s website.

b. There must be a follow up on information gathered during the survey. For instance, an update on Sanjia Kou’s Ming-Qing Commercial District’s most recent development and changes, etc.

c. Information based on the survey results must be shared with the public.

5. Lessons Learned

  • A large number of volunteers is crucial in conducting large-scale projects.
  • Increase the attractiveness of the activities by inviting professionals and advisers related to the areas to introduce volunteers to each area’s historical background. This also helps volunteers understand local culture and conduct effective survey.
  • Make sure survey trips and visits are well-organized to maximize enthusiastic participants. Also, appropriate survey time for the location is required to best understand the situation of the location.
  • Prepare and handout leaflets with content corresponding to the project’s goals to give to the public. This creates an effective way of disseminating information and raising public awareness for cultural heritage protection.
  • Have a well-organized survey planned before visiting any locations.
  • When conducting group projects, choosing locations close to each other is very important. It eases the transportation and group coordination aspects of the survey.
  • Volunteers must communicate to one another, especially during the planning stages.
  • Train volunteers as much as possible before they conduct the survey.
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