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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

Second Saturday of June to Be “Cultural Heritage Day”

Last September, we reported that China hoped to establish an annual Cultural Heritage Day to restore our confidence in the future of our vanishing cultural heritage. Now this hoped for event has occurred: the national government recently announced that, starting this year, the second Saturday of June every year would be national Cultural Heritage Day.  The only difference with our earlier report is that this day is not to be celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (Duan Wu Jie), but instead will be celebrated on the second Saturday of June. This is perhaps to give the celebration of this day a broader audience.
 
In its establishment of Cultural Heritage Day, the government expressed its dissatisfaction with the present state of cultural heritage conservation. The government feels that in many old districts of cities, in old buildings, and in archaeological sites, there has been much destruction, illegal transfer of cultural artifacts, theft of tombs, and smuggling of antiquities; moreover, there has been no effective suppression of these illegal activities, as a result of which many cultural treasures of the country have disappeared from China, and the special character of ethnic and regional cultures has been lost at an ever increasing rate.
In an effort to halt this destruction of cultural heritage, every department of the central government and all local governments have been called upon to put in place systems for the protection of cultural heritage. In addition, the government has called for a system of regular reporting on the protection of cultural heritage, for consultation with cultural experts, and for making cultural heritage protection more scientific and more popularly based.
In order to strengthen popular consciousness of cultural heritage protection, China now has a “Cultural Heritage Day”, a “Cultural Heritage Logo”, and a “Cultural Heritage Protection Song”. Although the state of cultural heritage protection today remains abysmal, we nonetheless that the situation will improve, and that the rate of improvement depends on our efforts.

CHP Cracks Smuggling Case

Last month, a middle level court in Jin Hua City, Zhejiang Province, began to pass sentence in the case of Canadian Zhu Chunlin, and Chinese Zhu Xiaogang, Yu Yanjun, Yu Lichun, Chen Zhigen, and Cao Guangjun, who are accused of smuggling and reselling 2925 fossil pieces.
 
The smuggling ring was formed is 2003. In April and October, Zhu Chunlin and Zhu Xiaogang purchased illegally collected fossils from Yu Yanjun and Yu Lichun. In December of that year, Zhu Chunlin and Zhu Xiaogang concealed the fossils in a container packed with carved tree stumps and exotic eroded stones to smuggle into America.
 
In April of 2004, Zhu Chunlin and the other gang members took many of the fossils to Chen Zhigen’s tree stump carving workshop and awaited an opportunity to smuggle them out of the country. Later that year, on 1 November, Chen Zhigen and the others tried smuggling the fossils out in a shipping container, but the fossils were detected by Jin Hua customs officials. Another eight items that they attempted to export through the postal system were seized by Shanghai customs officials.
 
In September of the same year, Yu Yanjun carried fossils that he had illegally acquired and sold them. Eighty-one of these fossils were detected by Shanghai customs authorities as the smugglers mailed them through the postal system, but the remainder evaded detection and were mailed out of the country.
According to Chinese law, selling the types of fossils that Zhu and his associates were handling is a criminal offense and the maximum penalty is ten year’s prison sentence. For the smuggling of these fossils, however, the maximum sentence is the death penalty.
 
The Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center’s “hot line” telephone service played a role in breaking this case by supplying details and some legal advice. The hot line service was created two years ago, financed by a grant from the Jim Thompson Foundation of Thailand, and the role the hot line and CHP’s training played in breaking this case illustrates the good use the public makes of CHP’s hot line service.
 
CHP’s training in the Shanghai and Zhejiang areas has been particularly effective. CHP has conducted more than ten different training sessions in these two areas, with more than 2,000 people participating, including students, neighborhood committees, government officials, police, and customs officials. These training sessions have raised their consciousness of cultural heritage protection, and they can identify activities that are destroying cultural heritage. Many people now know about the CHP hot line service, and have both the telephone number and email address.
 
In the Zhu Chunlin case, a worker’s son in Chen Zhigen’s workshop attended a CHP training session. Starting in January 2004, they often contacted us by the hot line to report suspicious activities in the workshop. In the latter part of April that year, as the illegal fossils were concealed in the workshop, they were in daily contact with us, calling from safe places. We advised them of precautions to ensure their safety, and also told them to keep gathering evidence of the smuggling. At the same time, we informed the police and notified a few trustworthy people in positions of authority so that they could watch the development of the case, until finally the arrests were made.
 
As for the fossils detected in the postal system, CHP had been invited to conduct training by a Shanghai neighborhood committee and participating in this session were a number of neighborhood organizations, including representatives of the local post office. Afterwards, the CHP hot line number was posted on the post office’s wall.  When the postal officers noted these fossils being mailed to America, they called the number. We told them to delay posting the materials, and immediately informed customs officers, who investigated and apprehended the culprits.
 
We shall be following the case closely to see what verdict is rendered and sentence passed by the court.

What Are We Doing To Preserve The Old City?

As a non-governmental organization that has been officially registered and been licensed to operate, our work rests on the basis of law, and on the legally constituted plans of the government for heritage protection. With regard to the protection of the old city of Beijing, our work is based on the national level “Cultural Heritage Protection Law” and the “Urban Planning Law”, plus the Beijing City level “The Historical and Cultural City Act” and the various plans of different periods for the protection of the old city.
We believe that there are two types of activities for the protection of the Old City of Beijing—stopping destruction and increasing protection. At the present time the more important of the two is the stopping of destruction. People and activities destroying the old city are numerous. The people undertaking the destruction are extremely powerful and privileged. Whether because of personal gain or because of ignorance, they are doing a lot to ruin the old city. Particularly destructive is the construction of buildings that destroy the traditional face of the old city.
Given the present political system and legal environment, we do not yet have the capability to investigate the perpetrators of this destruction, who should bear responsibility under the law. But we do have a simple and straightforward method, which is to tell the residents of Beijing, visitors, and all who are concerned with the protection of the city, who it is that is wrecking this destruction and how they do it.
To protect the old city we are now undertaking a work entitled “What is destroying Old Beijing: the top 100 offending buildings”.  On the basis of the fundamental requirements of the protection plans of different periods, we are methodically investigating and assessing all the buildings that are destroying the traditional appearance of the old city, and from amongst all of them we shall choose the worst 100. For each of these top offenders, we shall reveal the name of the building, its location, accompanied by a photo, and an explanation of the reason why it made the “top 100″, and to the best of our ability we shall attempt to reveal the name of the developer and architect, and the name of the individual or unit that approved the building’s construction. This project will be made into an electronic document and made public on our web site, and will make it available without cost to other web sites for their use as well.  Based on public feedback, we shall revise the document and publish it in print form. We hope that the smooth execution of this project will move the people of Beijing to exert pressure on the individuals who are destroying the old city of Beijing, and enable them to have some restraining influence over their activities.
In the execution of this project, we have encountered some difficulties. The owners of buildings that exceed Beijing height restrictions refuse to give us accurate information on the height of their buildings. In our surveying of the height of these buildings, we are now using some rather out of date methods, causing the work to proceed too slowly.  We hope that perhaps some of you may be able to assist us in moving this project forward.

China Adopts Icon and Song for Cultural Heritage Protection Campaign

In the past, we mentioned that China is seriously considering establishing a Cultural Heritage Protection Day to promote the right attitude towards traditional culture. As far as we know, the legal process of launching a Cultural Heritage Protection Day is progressing smoothly, and it is very likely to become official this year.
 
At the same time, we have received further good news relevant to this project. First of all, the highest administrative section of Chinese cultural heritage protection – the National Administration on Cultural Heritage – announced a cultural heritage protection icon. The pattern in the center of this icon is modeled after the archaeological findings from the Sichuan Jinsha Remnants. The National Authorities hope that, with the adoption of this new icon, more and more people will become aware of the cultural heritage concept, and start to treasure and protect it.
 
The National Authorities also hope that the younger generation will develop a passion to protect China’s culture heritage. To encourage this, they have written a new song named “Treasure” that is sung by a famous pop star. (Click the attached file for a trial version). Among the commercial advertisements  in the popular mass media will be the message of cultural heritage protection: a rational perception on the present situation of our country. During music programs, will be the cultural heritage protection song, which assures us of the responsible performances of this nation for the cultural succession of mankind.

Great Wall Legislation

The Great Wall is perhaps the single greatest international symbol of China. It is a source of tremendous pride for the Chinese people and an important part of the  nation’s cultural heritage.  Yet the Great Wall has suffered great devastation over the years, principally due to four factors:
  1. Engineering projects, such as rail lines, that cross through the Great Wall.
  2. Inappropriate tourism development projects that have wrought destruction on some parts of the Wall.
  3. Chaotic administration of the Great Wall on the part of government authorities.
  4. Raids of the Great Wall by local people for earth, stone and brick to use in their villages and farms.
Additional to these four factors are also the well-meaning but ill-conceived Great Wall restoration projects. In the Beijing area there are several examples of damaging restoration projects of wild sections of the Great Wall.  The work has been done with inferior materials and poor workmanship, creating Great Wall sections that look brand new, have no sense of historical authenticity, and give a misleading impression of the Great Wall to visitors.
 
To prevent further deterioration and destruction of the Great Wall, the national government has just announced the Great Wall Protection Regulations. For a copy in Chinese, please visit http://www.gov.cn/ziliao/flfg/2006-10/23/content_421000.htm
 
Although these proposed regulations will not immediately improve the condition of the Great Wall, it stills gives hope for its future. The following are clauses of particular importance to the public and also civil society organizations:
 
  • Particular organizations and units  are now responsible for the protection of the Great Wall. This allows citizens to report problems, make proposals or recommendations, consult and discuss, and to demand accountability from these organisations concerning the protection of the Great Wall. Although China cannot yet be said to be a country governed by rule of law in the fullest sense of the term, citizens and civil society organizations now have the right to demand performance under the law of officially designated Great Wall protection organizations.
  • The regulations permit the public and civil society organizations to collect donations to establish foundations that protect the Great Wall. Fundraising activities and the management of foundations must conform to the rules and regulations governing civil society.  Granting permission for the establishment of these foundations is a major breakthrough. Operating through these foundations, the public can become directly involved in Great Wall preservation projects.
  • The regulations guarantee the rights of ordinary citizens to become involved in a positive way with Great Wall protection. When citizens discover any destruction, they can report this to responsible organizations, and those organizations are required to respond appropriately by reporting the matter to their superiors. Failure to respond promptly can make the organization subject to penalty. In addition, these organizations can arrange citizen volunteer networks to patrol and look after the Great Wall (and will receive official subsidies for their efforts). This is of particular significance for the farming communities located along the Great Wall.
CHP believes that the government, the people, and civil society organizations all have a duty to protect the Great Wall. CHP intends to cooperate with other organizations and the public to promote the protection of the Great Wall under the provisions of these newly published regulations.
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