New rule makes preserving history a top priority in cities & villages
"The General Secretary has always attached great importance to the protection of historical and cultural heritage"
This is the third Pekingnology newsletter in a row looking at new trends in the Chinese government’s vision for urbanization. (The next several newsletters will focus on Chinese formal senior officials and experts’ analysis on China’s way to carbon neutrality.)
The Sept. 15 newsletter introduced a proposed rule that will put skyscraper-building under much more scrutiny.
The Sept. 13 newsletter looked at a new government rule from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development that requires halting large-scale demolition and construction in Chinese cities. One emphasis in that rule is protecting historical buildings, streets, districts, and relics in cities.
This newsletter presents a partial translation of the Sept. 3 Guidelines on Strengthening Protection and Inheritance of History and Culture in Urban and Rural Construction 《关于在城乡建设中加强历史文化保护传承的意见》(Mandarin) from the General Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council.
Below is some background provided by Huang Yan, Vice Minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, in a recent press briefing (Mandarin), underlining General Secretary Xi Jinping’s long-standing emphasis on the issue
The General Secretary has always attached great importance to the protection of historical and cultural heritage in urban and rural areas. It is widely known that when he was working in various regions, he personally promoted the protection of historical and cultural heritage wherever he was, including the protection of Zhengding ancient city in Hebei Province, Gulangyu Island in Xiamen, Fujian Province, and Gucuo (ancient houses) and SanFangQiXiang (Three Lanes and Seven Alleys) in Fuzhou, Fujian Province. The General Secretary put forward a series of far-sighted thoughts, concepts, viewpoints, and methods, and carried out many ground-breaking and sustainable concrete practices.
Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the General Secretary has made very important remarks on building stronger cultural confidence and strengthening the protection and inheritance of urban and rural history and culture at the Central Urbanization Work Conference and the Central Urban Work Conference. Since then, he has given very important instructions on the protection and inheritance of history and culture during inspection trips to different places.
The General Secretary explained the concept of protection using quite simple and vivid words. For example, when he visited Shanxi Province, he pointed out that historical and cultural heritage is precious resources that are non-renewable and irreplaceable, and protection should always be given top priority. During his inspections in Beijing, he always said that the relationship between urban reconstruction and development and the protection and utilization of historical and cultural heritage must be handled well, and that development should be included in protection while protection is included in the development.
When he visited Shanghai, he made vivid remarks that people should respect and kindly treat the old buildings in the city the same way they treat senior citizens and preserve the historical and cultural memory of the city.
During the inspection in Fuzhou, he pointed out that it is necessary to cherish and respect ancient buildings, old houses, and old neighborhoods. A few years ago, when he went to Guangzhou for inspection, the general secretary specifically mentioned we shall restore old neighborhoods and old buildings through “micro-renovation” with precise work. His words were very vivid and touching.
As everyone knows, the General Secretary emphasized again recently that we must do well in the protection and inheritance of history and culture when he visited Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, and Chengde, Hebei Province.
These important speeches and instructions have not only made us feel the General Secretary’s profound feelings for our five thousand years of history and culture but also provided us with fundamental instructions for our protection work in the New Era.
According to the deployment and requirements of the Party Central Committee and the State Council, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development has made great efforts to promote the protection and inheritance of urban and rural history and culture and has achieved positive results. Here I will provide a set of data.
Up to now, the State Council has announced a total of 137 national historical and cultural cities, which are national-level, and all provinces have announced 190 provincial-level historical and cultural cities.
At the same time, together with the National Cultural Heritage Administration, we announced 312 famous historical and cultural towns and 487 famous historical and cultural villages in China. We also included 6,819 villages into the protection list of traditional Chinese villages, forming the world’s largest agricultural civilization heritage group so far.
Especially since the 2015 Central Urban Work Conference, we have intensified the census and identification of historical and cultural blocks and historical buildings. Up to now, a total of 970 historical and cultural blocks for protection have been delineated across the country, and 42,700 historical buildings have been identified.
Compared with 2015, the number of historical blocks has doubled, and the number of historical buildings has increased by 4 times. Various other work has also made positive progress. Many media have covered this in various forms. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone for their attention.
While achieving results, we are also soberly aware that there are still many historical and cultural resources that have not been included in the protection list, and we have yet to achieve full coverage of all the elements and spaces.
Destruction of historical and cultural heritage still happens from time to time. There is still a gap between (our work and) the requirements of the Party Central Committee and the expectations of the people.
In recent years, in order to do a better job, we have started by studying the historical and cultural systems in urban and rural areas, organized experts and scholars to conduct a comprehensive and systematic review of the evolutionary context of history and culture, and proposed to preserve and protect the representative historical and cultural relics that have witnessed the 5000-year long history of Chinese civilization, more than 180 years of Chinese modern history, the 100-year history of the Party’s founding, 70 years of the People’s Republic of China, and over 40 years of reform and opening up.
We also proposed to preserve and protect important contemporary construction achievements.
In this way, we can systematically categorize our protection objects based on different periods of time. On the other hand, we need to establish a management system that is divided into national, provincial, municipal, and county levels, and the responsibilities of governments at each level must be clarified.
The Party Central Committee attaches great importance to this work, and the “Guidelines on Strengthening Protection and Inheritance of History and Culture in Urban and Rural Construction” is listed as an important item for deepening reform. The guideline was reviewed and approved at the 19th meeting of the Central Commission for Further Reform on May 21, which was also reported by the media.
To put it simply, this "Guideline" is the first document on the protection and inheritance of history and culture in urban and rural construction issued in the name of the Party Central Committee since our country established the protection system for historical and cultural cities in 1982. This is a very important top-level design and guiding document for the protection and inheritance of urban and rural history and culture, which has charted the course and provided the principles for the next step in the protection and inheritance work.
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Guidelines on Strengthening Protection and Inheritance of History and Culture in Urban and Rural Construction
The systematic protection, utilization, and inheritance of historical and cultural heritage in urban and rural construction are of great significance to continuing the history, promoting the high-quality development of urban and rural construction, strengthening cultural confidence, and developing a strong socialist culture in China. In order to further strengthen the protection and inheritance of historical culture in urban and rural construction, the following guidelines are hereby issued . . .
With the goal of systematically protecting and inheriting the historical and cultural heritage in urban and rural areas and telling the stories of China and the Communist Party of China in a comprehensive and true manner, with an attitude of being responsible for history and the people, we shall strengthen the top-level design and establish the system for urban and rural historical-cultural protection and inheritance, featured by scientific classification, strong protection, and effective management.
We shall improve relevant mechanisms and policy, and coordinate protection, utilization, and inheritance, so as to achieve full coverage of space and all elements. It is necessary to protect not only single buildings, but also streets, towns, and the layout.
We shall also protect historic areas, natural landscape, cultural environment, and intangible cultural heritage, focus on solving prominent problems such as repeated destruction and demolition of historical and cultural heritage in urban and rural construction, ensure that important urban and rural historical and cultural heritage in various periods is systematically protected, to provide a strong guarantee for building China into a country with a strong socialist culture.
Guided by historical and cultural values, in accordance with the protection requirements of authenticity and integrity, it is necessary to adapt to the characteristics of living heritage, comprehensively protect historical and cultural heritage such as ancient and modern, urban and rural, tangible and intangible ones, and establish and highlight Chinese cultural symbols and the image of the Chinese nation shared by all ethnic groups, to promote and develop China's fine traditional culture, revolutionary culture, and advanced socialist culture.
(4) Accurately grasp the basic connotation of the protection and inheritance system. The urban and rural historical and cultural protection and inheritance system is based on the compound and living heritage of cities, villages, and towns that have protection value and carry cultural values in various historical periods.
The objects that should be protected mainly include famous historical and cultural cities, towns and villages (traditional villages), blocks and immovable cultural relics, historical buildings, historical areas, and the organic compound consisting of the protection and inheritance of industrial heritage, agricultural cultural heritage, irrigation engineering heritage, intangible cultural heritage, cultural heritage in geographic names, etc.
The purpose of establishing an urban and rural historical and cultural protection and inheritance system is to comprehensively protect the ancient and modern historical and cultural heritage and important contemporary construction achievements and fully demonstrate the long and continuous history of the Chinese nation’s civilization, the modern history of China, and Chinese people’s glorious journey of unremitting endeavor led by the Communist Party of China, the history of the founding and development of the People's Republic of China, the great journey of reform and opening up, and of socialist modernization.
(6) Clarify the priorities in protection. We shall delimit the protection scope of various protection objects and necessary construction control zones, delimit underground cultural relics where they are buried, and clarify the protection priorities and protection requirements.
We shall protect cultural relics and their surrounding environment, vigorously implement original site protection, strengthen preventive protection, daily maintenance, protection, and repair.
Historical buildings of different periods and types should be protected, with the focus on protecting the appearance, structure, and components that reflect their core values and strengthen and repair them in time to eliminate potential safety hazards.
We shall protect historical areas that can truly reflect the traditional style and ethnic and local characteristics of a certain historical period.
We shall protect the historical texture, historical streets, the spatial scale and landscape of historical and cultural blocks, as well as environmental elements such as ancient wells, ancient bridges, and ancient trees, rectify inconsistent buildings and landscapes, and continue historical features.
We shall protect the traditional layout, historical features, humanistic environment, topography, and landforms of historical and cultural cities, towns, and villages (traditional villages), as well as their rivers and lakes and other natural landscape.
We shall pay attention to overall protection and inherit the wisdom of traditional construction, protect the intangible cultural heritage and the cultural ecology it depends on, and give play to the social function and contemporary value of the intangible cultural heritage.
(7) Exercise strict control over demolition. In urban renewal, large-scale demolition and construction are forbidden. It is also forbidden to dismantle the real old buildings and build fake new ones or mix the spurious with the genuine.
We shall not destroy the terrain, cut down the old trees, destroy the traditional style, arbitrarily divert or encroach on the rivers or lakes or change the geographic names at will.
We shall effectively protect existing buildings that can reflect specific developmental stages of the city, reflect important historical events, and condense the emotional memory of the public, and not arbitrarily dismantle old buildings and ancient dwellings with protective value. For those that have to be dismantled due to the public interest or potential safety hazards, assessments and demonstrations shall be conducted, and the opinions of relevant departments and the public shall be extensively solicited.
(8) Promote activation and utilization. We shall insist on promoting protection by use, let the historical and cultural heritage become the characteristic signs of the city and the country and the memory of the public in the process of effective use so that the historical culture and modern life can be integrated, and the sustainable inheritance can be realized.
We shall intensify the opening up of cultural relics, and use qualified cultural relics as museums, exhibition halls, and other public cultural facilities. We shall revitalize and utilize historical buildings and industrial heritage, and adapt to the needs of modern production and life through reconstruction and addition of facilities while maintaining the original appearance and typical components.
We shall explore the protection and development path of agricultural-cultural heritage and irrigation engineering heritage, and promote the development of ecological agriculture and rural tourism, to advance rural revitalization. We shall promote the rational use of intangible cultural heritage and its integration into modern production and life.
(9) Integrate protection and inheritance of history and culture into urban and rural construction. We shall coordinate the spatial layout of urban and rural areas, properly handle the relationship between the new city and the old city, reasonably determine the density and intensity of construction in the old city, and after scientific studies, gradually relieve the urban functions such as industry, warehousing logistics, and regional wholesale markets that are not compatible with the protection and inheritance of historical culture.
In accordance with the principle of simultaneously emphasizing preserving, rebuilding, and demolition and focusing on preservation and protection, we shall implement urban ecological restoration and functional improvement projects to steadily promote urban renewal, strengthen the management and control of construction activities in key areas, and the guidance of architectural and sculpture design, to protect traditional cultural genes, encourage inheritance and innovation, highlight urban characteristics, and avoid "a thousand cities having one appearance and ten thousand buildings having one look."
We shall build areas with specific functions such as cultural display, traditional residence, characteristic business, and leisure experience relying on historical and cultural blocks and historical areas to improve urban functions and enhance urban vitality.
We shall adopt micro-reconstruction methods to expand public open spaces in famous, historical, and cultural cities, towns, and villages (traditional villages), blocks, and historical areas, and make up for the shortcomings of supporting infrastructure and public service facilities.
We shall strengthen the construction of various forms of emergency response forces, formulate emergency response plans, and comprehensively combine manpower, equipment, technology, and other means to strengthen the disaster prevention, mitigation, and relief capabilities to better protect historical and cultural cities, towns, villages (traditional villages), blocks and historical areas. We shall coordinate rural construction and the protection and utilization of historical and cultural towns, villages (traditional villages) and historical areas, agricultural cultural heritage, and irrigation project heritage.
(10) Promote history and culture. We shall strengthen the research and interpretation of various historical and cultural heritages on the basis of protection, and explore their historical stories, cultural values, and spiritual connotations in a multi-level, all-around, and continuous manner.
Various historical and cultural heritages shall be connected according to their classifications and categories to build historical and cultural display lines, corridors, and networks integrated into production and life, where history and culture are seen everywhere.
Urban spirit and rural civilization shall be demonstrated in urban and rural construction so that the public could receive cultural influence unconsciously in their daily life.
We shall intensify publicity and promotion by organizing and carrying out traditional festivals, commemorative activities, cultural years, and other culture-themed activities in various forms.
We shall innovate methods and fully adopt various forms such as news reports, TV shows, TV programs, documentaries, cartoons, and short videos to fully demonstrate the influence, cohesion, and great appeal of the Chinese civilization.
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Translated by Zhixin Wan, copyedited by Alexander Wang, and reviewed by Zichen Wang, founder of Pekingnology. Don’t hesitate to reply should you have any questions, suggestions, or criticism.