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China has to better protect heritage sites now

Shi Yu/China Daily Editor’s Note: The Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City (3300 to 2300 BC) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a cultural site at the just concluded UNESCO World Heritage Committee session in Baku, Azerbaijan. Why is Liangzhu‘s heritage status so significant? Two experts share their views with China Daily’s Yao Yuxin. Excerpts follow:

Convincing proof that Chinese civilization is 5,000 years old

Min Qingwen, deputy director of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences

The Chinese civilization is 5,000 years old. But some scholars argued the Chinese civilization’s roots go only as far back as the Shang Dynasty about 3,500 years ago-and that it existed 1,500 years beyond that point was most probably a myth. These scholars projected their claim even more convincingly because China‘s previous archaeological sites could prove China‘s recorded history only up to the Shang Dynasty period (c 16th century to 11th century BC).

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Yet the Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City included in the UNESCO World Heritage List on Saturday indicates global recognition for China‘s 5,000-year civilization. The site also fills the missing link of urban archaeological sites during the Neolithic Age in East Asia.

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With substantial proofs from decades of archaeological research and excavations since it was first discovered in 1936, Liangzhu has been recognized as an urban settlement 5,000 year ago. The experts worked painstakingly from 2012 to 2017 to prepare the 5,330-page application with scientific proof to ensure the UNESCO committee understood the importance of the site and added it to the world heritage list.

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With Liangzhu City added to the list, China now has 55 UNESCO world heritage sites, sharing the top rank with Italy.

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But since international recognition increases the tourist traffic at such sites, some local governments may be driven by economic benefits to apply for the UNESCO tag but fail to properly protect the sites once they get recognition and tourist numbers increase drastically

Now that China has the highest number of world heritage sites, it has the added responsibility of protecting its natural and historical heritage sites, because the ultimate purpose of getting the UNESCO tag is to make more people aware about the importance of protecting our heritage

Besides, the flourishing domestic tourism industry, which will bring economic benefits and boost cultural confidence, will not necessarily undermine the protection of the sites. For instance, Liangzhu City limits the number of daily visitors to 3,000 and will expand the excavation area according to a scientific archaeological schedule

Liangzhu highlights value of traditional culture

Sun Jiashan, a researcher with the Chinese National Academy of Arts

The inclusion of Liangzhu City in the UNESCO World Heritage List means the Chinese government’s efforts to protect traditional culture have won global recognition. Chinese traditional culture is also a strategic resource for the country, which can help China enhance its soft power in the new era

China convinced Western scholars by submitting foolproof evidence that Liangzhu City flourished 5,000 years ago and therefore should be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, which in turn has allowed China to silence those experts who doubted that the country’s civilization has developed over 5,000 years without any break

This may sound like an easy endeavor, but for the Chinese experts to convince the UNESCO team was a daunting task. By being included in the UNECSO World Heritage List, Liangzhu can play a role in strengthening Chinese people’s confidence in their traditional culture and facilitate dialogues between experts in China and abroad. That the site dates back 5,000 years will also promote mutual learning among different civilizations in accordance with the principles advocated by the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations held in Beijing in May

The Chinese government has always protected the rich historical heritages as well as tangible and intangible cultural heritages of its 56 ethnic groups. For example, to protect such heritages, it established the Center for Ethnic and Folk Literature and Art Development in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 1998

Still, the government should take further measures in the new era to better protect the cultural relics and strike the right balance between economic gains and social benefits, and welcome non-governmental organizations and commercial bodies to devise innovative methods to manage and protect China‘s valuable heritages

The views don’t necessarily represent those of China Daily.