China allies with overseas governments to protect cultural heritage of humanity

By Zhao Yusha Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/16 19:18:40

Ta Keo Temple in Cambodia Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Ta Keo Temple in Cambodia Photo: Shan Jie/GT


Walking into the famous Ta Keo Temple in Cambodia, visitors may notice that some parts of the temple are covered by protective nets and scaffolds. Near these scaffolds is a sign in English and Chinese that reads "Funded by the government of the People's Republic of China," telling tourists from all over the world how China contributed to restoring the centuries-old landmark. 

China first began working with Cambodia on temple restoration in 1997 with the Angkor Wat Temple project. More recently, restorations have been completed for the Chau Say Tevoda Temple and the Takeo Temple, Chai Xiaoming, president of the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage (CACH), told the Global Times. 

He noted that China's successful experience in fixing these latter two temples lead to another cooperation project between China and Cambodia to restore the latter's Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. This project is expected to take two decades to complete.

Apart from Cambodia, other countries have also benefited from China's assistance in repairing and preserving their cultural heritage.

Immediately after the devastating 8.1-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, China dispatched experts to participate in post-quake assessment of damaged cultural heritage buildings in the capital Kathmandu. Current project include the restoration of Dharahara (Bhimsen Tower) in Kathmandu.

Valuable experience

"China has an obvious advantage in repairing heritage sites in Asian countries compared with Western countries, who also have their share of experience," said Chai.

He noted that this advantage is partly due to cultural similarities. 

"Also, most of those countries' heritage buildings are made from wood and earth, which is similar to China's relics, so we have abundant experience restoring these types of buildings," Chai noted.

Seeing China's rapid development in the field of heritage restoration, many developed countries such as Italy and France have begun expressing a strong willingness to cooperate with the country. 

During CACH's cooperation with the Italian National Research Council, the two discussed the administration and usage of large-scale heritage sties, bringing up the example of the Huai'an section of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. The canal's history dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770BC-476BC) and was completed during the Sui Dynasty (581-618). 

The Huai'an section is 93 kilometers long, accounting for one-seventh of the man-made waterway that was listed as a UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage site in 2014.

"China also increased the frequency of its exchanges with the International Council on Monuments and Sites and relevant heritage departments in France, Germany and Japan. We have learned a lot from each other," said Chai. 

China has also deployed the newest technology to help countries restore their heritage. While restoring Cambodia's Takeo Temple, the Chinese team used the leading 3D laser scanning and UAV oblique photographing technology to collect basic data and made use of non-destructive radar detection equipment to conduct foundation surveys and assessments.

In order to better protect the world's heritage, China is willing to join hands with other countries to enhance cooperation in fields such as museum management, joint archeology, development of high technology and training of professionals, Hu Bing, deputy head of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), said at the 2nd China-CEEC Cultural Heritage Forum held in Luoyang, Henan Province, on April 10.

Tracking down lost relics

During the conference, Hu said that China has signed bilateral contracts with 21 countries, such as Italy, India, Greece, the US and Australia to prevent the smuggling and illegal excavation of relics. These agreements have seen more than 1,000 cultural relics returned to China. 

Last week, 796 looted Chinese cultural relics were returned to China from Italy in the largest repatriation of its kind since about 3,000 smuggled artifacts were returned from the UK in 1998. The move was hailed by the Chinese foreign ministry as a "new paradigm" for international cooperation in retrieving lost cultural relics. 

Many of the cultural relics "were stolen and smuggled abroad over the past 20 or 30 years," Chai told the Global Times.

Chai said that China's cultural heritage department has been keeping a close eye on these lost relics, and expect more will be returned to China. 

"China now has the world's best programs for preserving cultural relics and the strongest government support on this matter," said Chai.

China has tracked down nearly 4,000 lost relics in recent years, the Beijing News reported SACH as saying in February. 

SACH has been deploying various means, including diplomatic negotiations, joint law enforcement operations and judicial litigation, to bring back these lost relics, said SACH.

Apart from government organizations, many private individuals have also made great contributions in helping China bring back lost relics. 

The bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit, donated by the Pinault family of France, went on display at the National Museum of China in June, 2013. The two relics were once part of 12 animal head Chinese zodiac sculptures that formed a water clock at Yuanmingyuan, or the Old Summer Palace, in Beijing. They were looted by Anglo-French forces during the Second Opium War in 1860.

The Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate and SACH have prioritized tracing back looted relics in recent years. For instance, the MPS and SACH have jointly established an "e-archive" for lost relics, according to the Beijing News.
Newspaper headline: To the rescue

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