Yungang Grottoes Applies for World Heritage List

Yungang Grottoes, one of the largest and oldest cave formations in China, is expected to apply to the World Cultural Heritage List this year.

The package of literary documents, photographs, slides, and videotapes required for the application is almost completed, but the biggest obstacle lies in the surrounding environment of the grottoes, according to Li Zhiguo, head of the Yungang research institute.

While some projects aimed at improving the environment in the protected areas have been finished or are underway, still more needs to be done and further funding is necessary, Li said. About 100 million yuan (12 million US dollars) is required to relocate local residents and enterprises near the grottoes, according to the archeologist.

The 1,500-year-old grottoes include 252 caves and more than 51, 000 Buddha statues, which are representative of the early stages of Chinese stone-carving.

Environmental problems have long held Yungang back from becoming a World Cultural Heritage site designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) since it was listed as a candidate for the prestigious list back in 1986. The Chinese government has since spent about 200 million yuan (24 million US dollars) to build a new highway to divert the heavy flow of coal trucks on a state-level highway near the grottoes.

China has abundant reserves of both natural scenery and cultural relics, but inadequate management of such sites of interest, including the sub-standard environs of such places, is the weightiest challenge facing all applicants to the World Heritage List, said Guo Zhan, consultant of the Department for Protection of Monuments & Sites of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

There are currently a total of 631 natural or cultural heritage sites worldwide, including 23 in China.

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