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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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China issues legislation encouraging the public to exercise its right to protect cultural heritage

Several past successful cases and the continuous development of cultural protection laws have shown that NGOs in China are capable of helping people protect their cultural heritage. The Provisional Regulations Governing the Management of the Designation of Cultural Relics, to be enacted on 1 October 2009, will make NGOs even more important to the protection of these cultural artifacts.

“Cultural relic” is a very important legal concept used in the field of cultural heritage protection. Anything from a small container to a major historic site will only be protected if it receives an official government designation. The “Cultural Relic Protection Law” is responsible for many of the successful efforts to preserve tangible cultural heritage over the last few decades.

The government has recognized many cultural relics, but previously the people had no part in the process. The law did not take into consideration the desires and requests of the public, and the public also had no capacity to combat government laziness and corruption. There are several examples of government agencies failing to act on the wishes of citizens. When the original building of the Ministry of Commerce was going to be destroyed, several citizens requested it be given status as a cultural relic, but this failed. In the summer of 2008, the historic building was completely demolished. The former residence of Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin, two famous architects, was not destroyed because of people’s resilient opposition. The future of the building, however, remains in question, as the government has not yet officially named it as a cultural relic.

As the Provisional Regulations Governing the Management of the Designation of Cultural Relics is implemented, the people will have a greater voice in the protection of cultural heritage. According to the law, if the people or organizations want to recognize an object or a location as a cultural relic or raise the status of a cultural relic, they can present a formal request in writing to the local government’s Cultural Protection Department. Departments that receive such requests are obliged by law to consider the proposal and give the petitioners a timely and clear response. If the citizen or organization who made the request is unsatisfied with the department’s response, they are able to resubmit the proposal to a higher governmental agency.

For example, as of 1 October 2009, any Chinese citizen or organization will be able to submit a request to give Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin’s Former Residence a cultural relic status, thereby ensuring its preservation. In this case, the application would be submitted to the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage or Dongcheng District Cultural Committee.

Reasons must be given for the designation of the particular site, and the petitioner must provide his or her identification. We believe that the Provisional Regulations Governing the Management of the Designation of Cultural Relics will give the people a very smooth and efficient channel through which they can participate in cultural heritage preservation.

CHP’s mission is to support communities to protect their own cultural heritage. We call on everyone to fully take advantage of this new means of cultural heritage protection. If you need any advice or help, please contact us.

To see the “Provisional Regulations Governing the Management of the Designation of Cultural Relics” in full, please visit http://www.sach.gov.cn/tabid/314/InfoID/20896/Default.aspx.

CHP would like to thank our volunteer translator, Michele Scrimenti, for his outstanding translation of this article.

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