Her­itage sites at risk from over­ex­ploita­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

With the in­clu­sion of Gu­langyu Is­land, called Ku­langsu in the lo­cal di­alect and known for its well-pre­served his­tor­i­cal build­ings, and Hol Xil, a plateau fa­mous for its nat­u­ral beauty and bio­di­ver­sity, China now has 52 sites in­scribed on the UNESCO World Her­itage list, which was es­tab­lished to safe­guard unique and ir­re­place­able cul­tural and nat­u­ral sites around the world. The de­ci­sions, an­nounced on the week­end, should not only be seen as an­other rea­son for the Chi­nese peo­ple to take pride in their his­tory and cul­ture, but also a rea­son to take pride in the con­ser­va­tion ef­forts that en­abled these two sites to meet the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria. Their in­clu­sion means only Italy, with 53, has more sites on the list.

This feat has not been easy, given that China only be­came a sig­na­tory to the Con­ven­tion Con­cern­ing the Pro­tec­tion of the World Cul­tural and Nat­u­ral Her­itage in 1985, and each coun­try is al­lowed to nom­i­nate only two sites each year.

Be­hind the suc­cess­ful bids to get the 52 sites in­scribed on the list have been stren­u­ous gov­ern­ment ef­forts to pro­tect the na­tion’s nat­u­ral, his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural her­itages, which have been un­der threat dur­ing the coun­try’s rapid de­vel­op­ment.

Take Hol Xil for ex­am­ple, the gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished a na­ture re­serve on the plateau in Qing­hai prov­ince in 1997, in or­der to pro­tect its frag­ile ecosys­tem and com­bat the ram­pant poach­ing of the en­dan­gered Ti­betan an­te­lope, whose num­bers have re­cov­ered from 15,000 in 1998 to 60,000 today.

Yet un­for­tu­nately, many sites in China al­ready in­scribed on UNESCO’s her­itage list are fac­ing in­creas­ing threats from com­mer­cial­ism and lack of ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion as lo­cal of­fi­cials see them only as a ma­jor source of tourism rev­enues.

To ac­com­mo­date the in­flux of tourists, ho­tels and in­fra­struc­ture fa­cil­i­ties are be­ing built in some sites, many with safety haz­ards and at the cost of the lo­cal peo­ple’s tra­di­tional life­styles. Fires in 2013 and 2014, for ex­am­ple, caused ir­re­versible dam­age to the old town of Li­jiang, a cul­tural site in Yun­nan prov­ince.

China’s in­creas­ing num­ber of her­itage sites makes it im­per­a­tive that the coun­try im­prove its preser­va­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties, in terms of her­itage site man­age­ment and its le­gal frame­work, to bet­ter pro­tect its rich nat­u­ral and cul­tural re­sources.

Yet a coun­try’s World Her­itage sites, which ex­hibit the best of its nat­u­ral beauty, hu­man val­ues and cul­tural tra­di­tions, be­long to all hu­mankind, and it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of not only the gov­ern­ment, but ev­ery cit­i­zen to en­sure they can be en­joyed by fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

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