Shaanxi Province's capital city of Xi'an, the former eastern terminus of the Silk Road, intends to spend 12.5 billion yuan ($2 billion) repairing another of its ancient treasures in the hope of creating a popular tourist attraction and getting it listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
So far, the government has spent 1 billion yuan in relocating 4,000 households from nine villages, near the ruins of Weiyang Palace, which was built during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).
The State Administration of Cultural Heritage has approved the city's application to UNESCO as part of a larger planned application that will include other significant Silk Road sites in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
According to the plan, the palace's ruins will be inspected by UNESCO officials in July this year and if the application is successful, it will become the sixth site in Xi'an to be declared a World Heritage site.
Located about 10 kilometers northwest of Xi'an, the ruins of Weiyang Palace, which was built by Emperor Han Gaozu who died in 195 BC, has been damaged by construction and strewn with garbage from residents, local companies and visitors.
Zeng Yizhi, from the International Committee of Monuments and Sites in China, told the Global Times that the city's mammoth investment is overkill.
"I don't think it's worth spending that much money on a World Heritage site application. Spending more on day-to-day protection would be more useful," Zeng said.
The Xi'an bureau of cultural relics said applying to become a World Heritage site is a good opportunity to protect the ruins and attract more tourists to the site.
Sun Keqin, a professor with the China University of Geosciences who has done a lot of research on world heritage, told the Global Times that if the site makes the list it will get more international attention.
"Once the site is included on the list, it will be part of the world's heritage. So the entire world will have an eye on the protection of the site," Sun said.
Some experts worry the local government intends to overdevelop the ruins as a boost to its tourist industry.
"Being declared a World Heritage site will bring a huge increasing in tourists and construction of the hotels and other facilities might damage the ruins more," Zeng said.
Sun echoed Zeng's opinion, as saying that local governments in China often consider the site part of their brand and use it to develop their local economy, rather than obeying UNESCO's rules for protection of such sites.