A total of 31 county-level cultural relics authorities from across the country were commended on Thursday in Beijing for their paramount efforts in protecting historical treasures.
Among the award recipients were Ji'an in Northeast China's Jilin Province, which boasts a great deal of cultural relics from the ancient Gaogouli ruins.
The Gaogouli (or Kocoryo), also called the Gaoli (or Koryo), was an influential ethnic group in China's border areas in northeastern China between the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24) and the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
The group's origins, its political system and the administrative annals of successive ancient Chinese dynasties were testimony to its being a political power in northeastern China.
Liquan County in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province also won the award. It is the site where the mausoleum of Li Shimin (known as Tang Taizong), the second emperor of the most important dynasty in ancient Chinese history -- Tang Dynasty -- is located.
Sun Jiazheng, Minister of Culture, said it is the first time that his ministry has joined hands with the State Bureau of Cultural Relics to issue such awards.
To encourage the society to allocate more attention to cultural relics protection, Sun said the ceremony would continue as an annual tradition.
At the on-going national working conference attended by directors from the country's provincial cultural relics protection authorities, Shan Jixiang, director of the State bureau, said "active progress has been made in all aspects concerning cultural relics protection."
However, he admitted he and his colleagues are facing serious challenges.
According to Shan, in 2003, the amount of thefts of relics stored in museums, warehouses and galleries dropped by 67 per cent compared with 2002, but the cases of grave looting rose by 63 per cent.
Driven by huge profits, criminals are active in digging ancient tombs and cultural heritage sites.
They usually employ modern communication and transportation instruments and have destroyed many graves of historical value.