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17 Jun, 2014

Xinhua Insight: Businessmen claim heritage sites for protection

TAIYUAN, June 14 (Xinhua) 2014-06-14 — The Dragon King Taoist Temple in north China’s Shanxi Province is being restored.

The temple dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and is not entitled to government protection. Local businessman Huang Wensheng claimed the right to manage the temple two years ago, invested more than 3 million yuan (483,000 U.S. dollars) in repairs and pays the salaries of the curators.

“I feel I should take some social responsibility, otherwise little known sites will not be left for future generations,” said Huang.

“When the maintenance is complete, local people can make use of the temple,” he said.


Huang is not alone in Quwo, the ancient capital of Jin (1033 BC-376 BC) is home to much crumbling historical architecture, damaged due to lack of government care. The situation is even worse at provincial level. Shanxi is home to more than 28,000 places of historical interest and the majority are in jeopardy or worse.

In 2008, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage started protecting sites in southern Shanxi at a cost of 400 million yuan, but little known sites at city or county level are beyond this budget.

Quwo welcomes individuals or organizations who wish to care for local sites on 30-year management contracts with strict conditions.

“Before a contract is signed, we consider very carefully the qualifications of potential custodians and the feasibility of their plans,” said Sun Yonghe, former director of the county department of cultural heritage in Quwo.

“In the last three three years, we have attracted a huge amount of social capital, equal to government investment in the past ten years,” said Sun.

Six heritage sites in Quwo have been claimed by local entrepreneurs, all of which were in a bleak condition with decayed beams and cracked walls.

“They have all been properly repaired, and one has even been promoted to a state-level cultural heritage site,” said Sun.


Non-governmental protection has no legal basis at county level. Entrepreneurs are concerned that policy may change, and their rights retracted.

Repairs can’t be done randomly and there have been several failed attempts. For instance in Taiyuan, Shanxi’s capital, one site was turned into luxurious restaurant, infuriating the public.

The situation is worse in the countryside. In some cases, a village committee pays a local carpenter to repair a building, as it cost much less than professionals. The results are pretty much as you would expect.

The contract only gives management rights for 30 years and some potential custodians hoping to convert the sites to tourist attractions, worry about recouping their costs.

Chang Yilong, 68, has taken over a temple in his village, also in Quwo County, and plans to invest 120 million yuan.

“I used to be a farmer, and benefited from economic reform,” said Chang. “Now I want to give local people a place to exercise, and to relax.”


“Although much has been done, we still need rules,” admitted Sun Yonghe. “We are not really clear about the dos and don’ts, and as a result, people are really confused.”

Patchy enforcement of the law for the preservation of antiques at the local level makes things even harder.

“The government should make more use of the Law on the Protection of Culture Relics, and legalize protection at the nongovernmental level,” suggested Li Jianhua. “In this way, the concerns of both the custodian and the local government can be cleared.”

Li also thinks policymakers should give incentives to maintain and protect cultural relics, like tax breaks.

“Regulations need to be put forward,” said Sun. “Only with details, can we prevent the valuable sites from being over-developed, or destroyed.”