Report criticizes China’s protection of cultural relics

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A senior legislator has pointed to weakness in China’s protection of cultural relics, describing efforts in this area as “disproportionate” to the country’s wealth of ancient history. 

Leshan Buddha in China, the sandstone blackened and corroding from acid rain [Credit: Ariel Steiner]

Lu Yongxiang, vice chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, made the remarks on Tuesday while delivering a report on law enforcement inspections pertaining to the Law on the Protection of Cultural Relics. 

“Some local governments and enterprises have demolished at will sites and buildings with historical and cultural value during urban construction… In some cases, archaeological surveys were deliberately avoided to make way for the implementation of construction projects,” Lu said, citing the report. 

The inspection, which was conducted in April and May, is the first of its kind on a national scale since the cultural relics protection law was promulgated in 1982. 

China’s protection of ancient relics has been under increasing public scrutiny, especially after the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City, former home of Chinese emperors, suffered a string of incidents involving the theft and damage of relics. 

Last August, Palace Museum director Zheng Xinmiao said that careless staff members damaged three relics that date back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Two ritual implements suffered damage in May 2004, and a flower receptacle was damaged in 2009, according to Zheng. 

In one case of theft from the site, a Chinese man was earlier this year sentenced to 13 years in jail and fined 2,000 U.S. dollars for breaking into the heavily guarded museum on May 8, 2011, and stealing nine pieces of art made of gold and jewels. 

A five-year census of the country’s fixed cultural heritage found several months ago that construction projects were responsible for more than half of 40,000-plus fixed cultural relics, including those located underground and underwater, “disappearing” over the past 30 years. 

The census, the third and largest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, showed that about 17.77 percent of the country’s cultural relics are in relatively poor preserved condition and 8.43 percent are preserved in poor condition. 

Meanwhile, Lu noted that cultural relics in some areas were “overly used” or even “damaged” for tourism development, and relics-related crimes, such as theft and smuggling, have been “rampant despite constant crackdowns.” 

According to Lu’s report, a special campaign is under way to eliminate security risks and restore damaged items in the country’s key cultural relics protection units. 

“Cultural relics that were damaged during earthquakes in Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and other provinces have been repaired in a timely manner… and the expenditure on relics protection has been written into government budgets at all levels with yearly increases,” noted the report. 

Figures from the Ministry of Finance show that the country’s public spending on cultural relics from 2006 to 2010 amounted to 57.25 billion yuan (9 billion U.S. dollars), with a yearly increase of 37.9 percent. 

Source: People’s Daily Online [June 28, 2012]