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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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Friends of Old Beijing: A Few Case Studies on the Old City Redevelopment in Beijing

Speaker: Wang Shiren
Translated by: Wang Gang
Transcribed by: Chen Yu
Date: Saturday, Januray 13, 2006

Introduction:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Right now, everyone who is concerned about the protection of Old Beijing knows that there are laws and regulations in place. With these laws and regulations, many of us want to know what we can do next to preserve the city. Now, we have spent a lot of time and effort to find an authoritative expert to talk about this problem because we feel that it is a very important issue. The individuals who wrote the Beijing Preservation Policy recommended Mr. Wang Shiren. Mr. Wang Shiren is a very famous and respected expert in this area. I have read a lot about Mr. Wang and concluded two points. First, he is an expert and not a paper pusher. Instead, he directly entered onto the national and municipal stage on the issue of protection of Old Beijing. He works very closely with the government. When the national and municipal governments are deciding on the plan for the protection of the Old City, they consult think tanks. Mr. Wan is an important member of these think tanks. Mr. Wang also has another specialty and it is that he part of some of the most important programs in the protection of Old Beijing. I think that Mr. Wang’s presentation today will be very interesting. Now I wanted to remind you that the protection of the Old City is very complicated and a very broad issue. I think that everyone understands that protecting Old Beijing is ten thousand times harder than protecting the most famous piece of fine china. You can put a piece of fine china in a safe to protect it. Obviously, you cannot do that with Old Beijing. Mr. Wang’s presentation, in a moment, might be in the form of a discussion. I feel that this will be beneficial. Now let’s welcome Mr. Wang.

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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.
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