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Public Participation Is Key to Cultural Heritage Preservation Success– Director of SACH Inspects Courtyard 222 on its Successful Law Suit against Demolition Threat

On November 25, 2008, Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP) organized a law seminar to discuss how public interest litigations (PIL) can help preserving the rich cultural heritage in China, using Courtyard 222 on Qianmen Xiheyan Street as a case study. After the seminar, a few journalists present at the discussion published articles on different media, analyzing and introducing this new angle of cultural heritage preservation.

Fortunately, one of the articles caught the attention of Director Shan Jixiang of State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), and he decided to pay a visit to this courtyard 222 personally to investigate its experiences (details about this lawsuit is available in Chinese at the bottom link). And on January 9th, 2009, we were very lucky to bump into Director Shan and communicated some of our thoughts directly with the highest government official in China responsible for the policy of cultural heritage preservation.

During our talk with him, Director Shan put much emphasis on the importance of public participation in cultural heritage preservation. He gave us an example of what had happened in Turpan. The proposed budget of local cultural heritage preservation authority in restoring one underground water tunnel is about 20 times the cost of the locals if they were to do it in the traditional way. It is very clear that the grassroots community’s wisdom is valuable in solving the problems faced in nowadays cultural heritage preservation. Even in Beijing, Director Shan believes that without mobilized local communities, who would be able to renovate their own houses, the goal in preserving urban heritage can’t be successfully achieved.

Of course, we understand that there is a lot of work to be done before the local communities are really empowered. For example, the current government management system needs to be streamlined, and the property ownership should be protected in accordance to the property law. In order to do so, the local communities should learn how to use the law as a powerful weapon, especially in a society that advocates the rule of law. This also explains why Director Shan spoke highly the experiences of Courtyard 222. One of the CHP volunteers, Guo Ran, shared with Director Shan our observations when we organized our law seminar, as well as our experiences in applying this experience in other cases.

Director Shan inspected the whole courtyard, and asked those people who have not moved questions to understand the impact of the lawsuit to them, as well as to the house. From this inspection, we can see the government’s determination in protecting the integrity of historical neighborhoods by promoting public interest litigation. As a NGO studying the impact of PIL, we are delighted to see this positive change. We sincerely hope that we could have more opportunities to exchange ideas with the government, so that we can contribute more in the preservation of our cultural heritage.

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