Chinese beginning to question value of World Heritage status

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Much time has passed since China first joined UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1987, when The Great Wall, Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (aka the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an), Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian, Mogao Caves, Mount Taishan and the Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang were inscribed alongside many of the world’s greatest cultural and natural treasures.

World Heritage
Danxia Landform, Gansu Province

Twenty-three years and 33 inscriptions later, the landscapes of China Danxia are China’s 40th site on the prestigious list – a list whose allure is proving increasingly irresistible to some career-minded local officials.

But today some Chinese are beginning to wonder if massive amounts of public funds spent by local governments on packaging sites for UNESCO’s consideration could be better spent elsewhere. Furthermore, many are becoming convinced that inscription on the World Heritage list is unnecessary altogether.

A recent survey conducted by China Youth Daily and two popular Chinese websites and found that half of its 1,784 respondents felt that it was “not worthwhile” for local governments to spend large sums of money on applying for World Heritage status. More than half of those surveyed said they have no plans to go to recent Chinese nominations for the list.

The Hunan provincial government reportedly spent a total of 400 million yuan (US$58.8 million) on “preparation and organization procedures” and the county of Libo in Guizhou province ran up debt of 200 million yuan in its failed bid to join the list, according to a Global Times report.

World Heritage
Danming Palace National Historic Park

But it is the case of Xi’an’s Daming Palace that has spurred the current online debate about the value of World Heritage status. Recently constructed portions of the palace compound that were modeled after ancient buildings were demolished during a whopping US$5.89 billion renovation of the site scheduled to be completed in time for the October 1 National Day holiday. In the face of public anger at the wasting of funds, an official related to the project said the demolition was necessary in order to meet World Heritage standards.

If the China Youth Daily survey is remotely consistent with general sentiment around the country, then local governments may have to work harder sell their case for using public funds to attempt to woo UNESCO. More than 68 percent of respondents said they didn’t believe that World Heritage status was necessary for protecting important sites, and only 9.1 percent supported applying for the list at all.


Photo credit (for first photo): Somewhere

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