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Playing well with concepts before applying for world heritage status

(People's Daily Online)

08:36, November 13, 2012

Tengwang Pavilion in Jiangxi Province.(file photo)

Related report: Puzzlement hits 10 historic Chinese towers' road to World Cultural Heritage

Ten local governments in China have recently delayed the joint application for the World Cultural Heritage status for 10 famous ancient towers within their jurisdiction due to lack of consensus. However, once consensus is reached, they will continue to apply for world heritage status for the 10 towers.

In order to be inscribed on the World Heritage List, the 10 historic towers must first play well with concepts. Whoever can play well with concepts can influence the current world. For example, the concept of intangible heritage was greatly promoted by Japanese.

Reconstruction is no obstacle

In fact, it is not rare to see rebuilt cultural heritage sites on the World Heritage List. Warsaw's Old Town, which was largely destroyed in the Second World War, was meticulously rebuilt after the war, and inscribed on the World Heritage List. The reconstruction was generally considered to have increased the Old Town's value.

Seriously, how many World Heritage Sites still maintain their original state? China's Great Wall has undergone more than 2,000 years of continued renovation and restoration. Its Badaling section was rebuilt in the 1950s, but who would doubt the authenticity of the Great Wall?

Even if the 10 historic towers had weakness in authenticity, they could choose to avoid it. Someone suggested them applying for world heritage status as cultural landscapes, which is a very smart strategy. The joint application is based on the concept of the combination of towers and landscape. This is a major distinction between Chinese culture and other cultures. Chinese are good at building a tower beside a natural landscape and then adding cultural significance to the tower. The value of these towers lies in their status as cultural relics, a set of cultural landscapes they have established, and ancient Chinese intellectuals' aesthetic attitudes toward time and space. This is a major criterion for the selection of World Cultural Heritage sites.

Cultural landscapes underscore the beautiful harmoniousness among the construction, nature, and life in the process of historical evolution. If measured by authenticity, the Broken Bridge at the West Lake in Hangzhou rebuilt in the period of the Republic of China would not have any historic significance. However, as an integral part of the West Lake Cultural Landscape, it carries abundant aesthetic imagination. From this perspective, it does not matter whether the towers are rebuilt or not, as long as the building techniques and their appearances are in line with the characteristics of ancient times and applicants explain clearly the significance and value of the tower in a cultural landscape. Rebuilt heritage sites are not worthless, and the real obstacle to a successful joint application is the "10" in the "10 famous ancient towers."
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