Hidden passages, secret texts and gold thieves (3)

16:38, October 22, 2010      

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Everyone's invited to this Silk Road costume party

Gansu province's Dunhuang is hoping to restore its glory days by reconstructing its ancient city - and will do so by following the dynastic-era blueprints from the secret library a mysterious monk hid in a cave in 1035, the local government says.

Dunhuang's biggest project in modern times is intended to "create a role-playing holiday for contemporary people", the CEO of J.A.O. Design International Architects Ltd, James Jao, says.

"We're looking to create a theme park that is also a way of living," he says.

"It's not difficult to recreate the ancient structures. The trickier part is recreating a lifestyle - to build a place where you walk through the gate and into the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220)."

To this end, planners are considering having visitors exchange their modern money for ancient coins and swap their contemporary clothing for Han-era attire upon entering the city.

Jao says he took inspiration for the concept from the modern US tradition of the toga party, in which revelers dress in ancient Roman robes.

"I want to have a Chinese toga party, and everyone's invited," Jao says.

The project will cover one-seventh of the 7-sq-km city of 5,000 residents. It will cost 3 billion yuan ($451 million) and take five years to complete, Dunhuang's planning commissioner Qi Xingji says.

"We're trying to create the right mix of modern facilities and ancient lifestyles," Jao says.

The idea is to show 1,000 years in three days, he says.

To figure out how best to do that, J.A.O. Design distributed more than 500 surveys to locals and visitors.

The hope, the city's Party Chairman Sun Yulong says, is to create stronger staying power for tours to the Dunhuang Grottos, Crescent Moon Lake and the westernmost terminus of the Han Great Wall. Visits currently last for an average of two days.

"It will make a huge difference to the prosperity of our city if we can get people to stay another day or two," Sun says.

"And this ancient city reconstruction project is our best option for making this happen."

Tourism is Dunhuang's No 1 industry, accounting for about 30 percent of the local economy, government figures show.

The rebuilding project's design is based on the ancient urban planning documents discovered in 1900 in the secret library of Hong Bian. For reasons still unknown, the monk stashed the records, behind a fake wall in the Dunhuang Grottos' Cave No 17, almost 1,000 years ago.

The reconstructed city will contain six zones, Qi says. There will be a Buddhist monastery area; a museum and international exhibition area; a hotel, guesthouse and service area; a commercial and trade area; a performance area dedicated to local traditions; and a central district industry park.

Sun says he hopes the new attraction would lure not only domestic but also foreign tourists.

"Dunhuang is the central meeting point of China and Central Asia," Jao says.

"We're trying to recreate the 36 lifestyles of the 36 nations that once converged here. This historical fusion of cultures must be recreated."

During the Han and Tang (AD 618-907) dynasties, the city was the only oasis in the desert swath between Central Asia and the ancient capital Xi'an (then called Chang'an). The Silk Road nexus also hosted the largest proportion of foreign residents in China.

"If China wants to influence the world again, the cultures have to meet," Jao says.

"And there's no better place for this than Dunhuang."By Erik Nilsson Source: China Daily
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