CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 11, September 2007


Briefs | China Heritage Quarterly


On 25 September 2007, Xinhua News Agency reported that the famed gate in the Great Wall called Yangguan (Sun Pass), located outside Dunhuang in Gansu province and constructed during the Han dynasty in 121 BCE, is neglected and under threat of total destruction at the hands of the elements. The director of the Yangguan Museum, Ji Yongyuan was quoted as saying that 'time was running out to save the gate'. 'Two heavy downpours will bring it down and there will be nothing left afterwards', he was quoted as saying. 'Once it falls, we're all doomed'.


The National Library of China, located in the Haidian district of Beijing, recently staged an exhibition of the original models prepared by the family of architects who for seven generations, from the mid 17th century onwards, served as the designers of the palaces of the Qing dynasty emperors. A total of 271 models and designs prepared by architects from the Yangshi Lei family were on display from 10 to 23 September in the library. The exhibition was organised in conjunction with the Palace Museum and the China Number One Historical Archive. (For more on the Lei family, see our December 2006 issue.)


Xinhua News Agency's Kuche office reported on 11 September 2007 the recent discovery of the first Han dynasty-style brick tomb discovered to date in Xinjiang. The tomb in Kuche county, Xinjiang, is estimated to be around 1700 years old and taken to be evidence of a Chinese presence in the area.


On 25 September 2007, it was reported that a display of 100 national treasures from the Palace Museum in Beijing had opened in a pavilion in the Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai. Yuyuan Garden is a popular destination with many restaurants and antique shops frequented by locals and tourists, and so elaborate security measures have been put in place to protect the collection. This is the first occasion on which many of the items on display have been shown outside the museum. The exhibition will run until 10 December.


On 25 September 2007, Xinhua News Agency reported that the plan by the management office of Yuanming Yuan (Garden of Perfect Brightness) Park to rebuild in its entirety one of the palace gates and to complete the project by the end of this year has met with opposition from some conservationists and members of the public. A spokesman for the office provided a guarantee that the reconstruction will be utterly faithful to the original design, but many fear that the project will result in the destruction of genuine original relics. An online poll conducted by ascertained that 54 percent of the respondents were opposed to the proposal, believing that the site should simply be preserved as it is. Nevertheless, 44 percent believe that 'it is necessary to restore the imperial garden to its former glory'.


On 24 September 2007, it was reported that a new café has been opened in the venue where Starbucks once had a controversial outlet inside the Forbidden City. Starbucks was forced to close its coffee outlet in the face of mounting public criticism. The campaign against Starbucks was lent critical support by China Central Television anchorman Rui Chenggang, who said that 'the image of the Forbidden City should be purified through expelling outlets like Starbucks'. The new café is called the Forbidden City Café and is owned by the museum.


On 21 September 2007, Xinhua News Agency reported the discovery by a herdsman in Wensu county, Xinjiang, of an ancient mummy. The herdsman saw a dried human hand emerging from a slope and with a companion unearthed what proved to be an ancient mummy of a male. Like some earlier ancient mummies discovered in Xinjiang, this was also well preserved. The bearded male was dressed a bright blue and white gown and his body was covered with a cotton quilt. Archaeologists have now taken steps to preserve the discovery and date it.


On 18 September 2007, Xinhua Agency reported that China's Institute of Geographical Names under the Ministry of Civil Affairs has completed drawing up a general plan for the protection of China's ancient geographical names. The project began in 2004. Liu Baoquan, director of the institute, was reported as saying that geographical names have been passed down through the centuries and are an integral part of a culture's intangible heritage. At the Ninth Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names held under the auspices of the UN in New York in August this year, a resolution was passed calling for the recognition of geographical names as intangible cultural heritage.


On 16 September 2007, the Tianjin office of Xinhua News Agency reported the establishment on that day of two new conservation organizations, the China Folk Art Heritage Protection and Research Centre and the China Woodblock Print Making Base, under the auspices of the Feng Jicai Literature and Art Research Institution at Tianjin University. A representative of UNESCO attended the opening ceremony. Feng Jicai is a prominent novelist from Tianjin who over recent years has been one of China's foremost activists in the field of cultural heritage protection.


On 18 August 2007, a week-long display of 300 ancient jades opened at Chengtian Antique City, near the famous Panjiayuan Antiques Market in Beijing. The exhibition, organized by the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce was billed to be 'the first exhibition of ancient jades sponsored by a non-governmental organization in China'. On display were examples of Hongshan, Liangzhu and Qijia culture jades.


The Chinese spoken language has changed greatly in recent years, keeping pace with rapid social change. These changes are most evident in new lexical items that have appeared. On 18 August 2007, the Ministry of Education issued a report that publicized these new coinages. Some have a political provenance, such as the expression barong-bachi ('eight honours and eight disgraces'), a reference to the measures outlined by President Hu Jintao in a speech delivered in 2006 calling for the promotion of socialist ethics and personal integrity. But most reflect social changes. Couples who live apart to retain a romantic element in their relationships are described as bantang-fuqi ('semi-honey couples'), a reference to the earlier expression banlu-fuqi referring to couples who have embarked on a second or third marriage. DINK ('double income no kids') couples in big cities who prefer to raise pets to children are now referred to as dingchong-jiating which incorporates a phonetic rendering of the original English term DINK. Another term that also has a foreign provenance is duanbei ('broke-backs), a new term for gay males that is an allusion to Ang Lee's film Brokeback Mountain. The Ministry of Education, together with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, established in 2005 a large database collecting new words with the greatest frequency of usage. The database is an essential tool for determining the content of future editions of dictionaries produced under the auspices of the academy.


The Chinese government is investing in a complex of eight galleries showcasing contemporary Chinese art to be located near Qingcheng Mountain in Chengdu, Sichuan province. This is said to be the first time that the Chinese government has invested in such a project, scheduled to be completed by the end of 2008. Eight leading Chinese artists have been chosen and each will run a gallery, named for the resident artist and covering a floor space of 1,000 square metres. The local government is providing seven hectares of land for the project and a real estate company will invest 100 million yuan (USD13.15 million) in the construction. Lu Peng, a professor at the China Academy of Art, is the project planner. Yue Minjun, one of the artists participating in the program, welcomes the initiative, commenting that this is a good chance to establish a national modern art research base. The galleries are being designed by Japanese architects.


Beijing now has 140 registered museums, and 40 of these have opened to the public over the past decade. The figure was provided by Shu Xiaofeng, deputy director of Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage, in a Xinhua press release of 20 August 2007.


The highest price paid at auction in China for an antique porcelain piece was achieved by Sungari Auction House on 20 August 2007. This piece was a Qianlong enamelware porcelain vase of a type called a zun, with figural decoration and it fetched RMB 84 million.


On 17 August the Second International Hongshan Culture Conference opened in Chifeng, Inner Mongolia. These conferences are to be annual event that will bring together scholars from all over the world. This year's conference attracted two of the world's leading scholars of ancient jades, Yang Boda of the Palace Museum and Deng Cong, head of Chinese art and archaeology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Hongshan culture is now regarded as north China's earliest neolithic culture.


It was reported by on 28 August 2007 that a conference discussing the development of Tibetan ethnic tourism in Sichuan province was told that China was actively planning to nominate the Epic of King Gesar as an item of World Intangible Cultural Heritage.


On 15 August 2007, Xinhua News Agency reported that the ancient city wall of Xi'an is subsiding, but that authorities are attempting to stabilise the 600-year old structure seriously affected by heavy rain in July. Heavy rains caused water to accumulate in low-lying areas of the wall, infiltrating it and causing the earth core of the wall to subside. Many parts of the wall recently developed cracks. Fan Dake, deputy director of the City Wall Administrative Committee, said the problem has arisen because when the ancient wall was repaired in the 1980s, the original earth was left inside the wall but it deteriorated in quality during the repair work.

Repair work on six sections of the city wall has now been undertaken, and new techniques of waterproofing are being used. The original soil is being replaced with higher quality soil mixed with lime.

The Xi'an city wall is 13.75 kilometres in length, and is 12 metres high and up to 18 centimetres wide at its base.


On 14 August 2007, it was reported that the central governing was planning to restore the Shaolin Temple complex in Dengfeng, Henan province. More than 1,000 enterprises, including martial arts schools, shops and households, covering some 300,000 square metres, would be moved away from the complex. Archaeologists and conservation professionals would be engaged to oversee the repair and restoration work of the famous stupa forest at the complex. This project, which is schedule for completion by the end of this year, is regarded as preparatory for the nomination of the Shaolin Temple complex for world heritage status, following the earlier unsuccessful attempt to have the Shaolin martial arts nominated for listing as a world intangible cultural heritage item.


On 14 August, China Daily reported on a Chinese genealogical computer project called the Dazhonghua Family Tree ( The California-based computer project was founded by Peter B.C. Huang, a computer engineer who immigrated to the US from China 20 years ago. Participants in the project can log on to the website and load in their family tree information, which can later be updated, edited and corrected. Mr Huang hopes that the project will eventually gather all the family trees of different surnames to form a Chinese family tree. He has contacted the State Council in an effort to acquire a national intangible cultural heritage listing for his brainchild.

Shanghai Library has the largest collection of genealogical information in China, and in the 20th century the library saved some 10,000 records of genealogy, which were regard as 'feudal remnants' during the Maoist period from being recycled as waste paper. Shanghai Library is currently compiling what it calls The Comprehensive Catalogue of Chinese Genealogy which is scheduled for completion by the end of this year and will be available to the public in 2008.

A number of individuals and entrepreneurs in China have also embarked on ambitious genealogical projects documenting their family trees over many centuries.


On 13 August 2007, Guo Haitang of the China Association of Four Treasures of the Study told a press conference that his association was preparing an application to have the four treasures of the studio (the traditional brush, paper, ink and inkstone) nominated for UNESCO listing as intangible cultural heritage items. The association's application will be submitted to the Ministry of Culture in October 2007.


On 13 August 2007, Guangzhou Daily reported that a castle called Huangwucheng has been relocated in wooded mountains near Nanxiong in Shaoguan city, Guangdong province. The castle, constructed from bricks on a granite base, was built in 1377, but its location was not known in recent years, even though ten families were reported to be living there.


From 13 September 2007 to 6 April 2008, 120 objects from the mausoleum of Qin Shihuang are being exhibited at the British Museum. This is the largest showing of the terracotta army outside China to date. The exhibits include 20 life-sized statues of warriors, acrobats and musicians, as well as weapons, bronze and jade objects. For a review of a book published to coincide with this exhibition, see New Scholarship in this issue of China Heritage Quarterly.


At the end of July 2007, archaeologists called a press conference to announce the dramatic discoveries made since the excavation began in December 2006 of a 2,500 year old tomb in Lijia village, Jiang'an county, Jiangxi province. The tomb measuring 16 m in length and 11.5 m in width contained 47 coffins, the largest number found in a single tomb to date. The coffins were fashioned from the hardwood called Phoebe nanmu. Seven of the coffins held skeletons, four of whom have been identified as 'healthy females around 20'.The tomb contained more than 200 items including copper, jade, gold and bamboo items.

The most startling discoveries were samples of silk, flax and cotton textiles, which feature stunning dyeing and weaving technologies. These were found in 22 of the 47 coffins. Most are fine fabrics and the largest piece is 130 centimetres long and 52 centimetres wide. Zhang Xiaomei of Peking University told the press conference that one piece of cotton cloth was dyed red and black and that vermilion had been used in the dyeing process. It was previously believed that the Arabs were the first to use vermilion in the 8th century, yet this tomb is believed to date to the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-221 BCE).

The excavators believe that the four young women buried in the tomb were sacrificial burials to accompany their master. A brain shrivelled to the size of a fist but structurally intact was discovered in one of the coffins. DNA analysis will be used to determine whether the occupants of the tomb were related.


On 26 July 2007, the Legal Affairs Office of the State Council released the draft law on the protection of historical cities, towns and villages for public comment. The State Council published its first list of 99 historical cities, towns and villages in 1982, and another 28 sites have been added to the list during the past 25 years. The legislation adheres to the principle that no economic development should be at the expense of cultural heritage, but the draft legislation places the onus for initiatives on local governments, enjoining them to maintain traditional layouts and to preserve the architectural integrity of historical areas. The draft legislation stresses that the central government allocate funds, and that local governments match those funds. The legislation contains penalties for those who cause serious damage to historical buildings, with fines ranging between RMB 500,000 and RMB 1 million.


Xinhua News Agency reported on 16 July 2007 that archaeologists from Guangdong province had retrieved more than 300 pieces of porcelain from an ancient shipwreck at the bottom of the South China Sea. Guangdong archaeologists used satellite navigation equipment to locate the wreck in early June 2007. The vessel, dubbed South China Sea-II, is about 17 metres in length and lay at a depth of 20 metres. Most of the porcelain recovered form the wreck was produced in the Ming dynasty, according to a spokesman of the Guangdong Archaeological Institute.


On 24 July 2007, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage announced the launch of China's first survey of underwater cultural relics and the sites of wrecks. The survey is aimed at establishing protection zones to prevent illegal excavation. The project is an enormous undertaking as China has a coastline measuring 18,000 kilometres.


According to a Xinhua News Agency report of 13 July 2007, most of Beijing's historic mansions are poorly maintained and lack protection against fire and lightning strikes, although almost all of them still serve as homes, schools or workshops. The situation has been criticized by experts and scholars in recent years as a misuse of heritage sites, mostly former abodes of important historic figures, from imperial family members and ministers to prominent participants in the Chinese revolution.

The issue was on the agenda of an internal meeting of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage on 11 July 2007. Xinhua sources attending the meeting said at least 60 percent of the 322 most important historic buildings in downtown Beijing are in constant danger of fire. These buildings, including two-storey houses or courtyard complexes that can accommodate dozens of families each, are home to more than 4,000 urban families and an additional 7,000 families live within a radius of 10 meters of these ancient buildings. The buildings have poor wiring and are not equipped with fire extinguishers. Most of the houses are not equipped with fire extinguishers.

A massive relocation program would cost at least RMB 100 billion yuan (USD 12.8 billion). Skyrocketing house prices in urban Beijing have made such plans even more distant. Apartments in the city centre sell for an average of 15,000 yuan per square meter. Even a more limited relocation programme could take as much as 90 percent of the cultural heritage administration's total budget for heritage protection, according to Kong Fanzhi, director of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage.

A 500-year-old courtyard close to Tian'anmen Square, where the imperial archives of the Ming and Qing dynasties were once stored, is occupied by 26 families of its former employees and crammed with shacks to accommodate more people. A former mansion of a Qing dynasty prince in Dongdan, close to Wangfujing street, is now a workshop producing telecom devices. Only at the end of last year did a school affiliated to the China Conservatory finally move out of Prince Gong's Mansion, and then only after 28 years of government agitation and at a cost of more than RMB 100 million (USD 12.8 million).

Beijing has promised to postpone major renovation projects on the city's cultural sites in 2008 to allow Olympic Games tourists to better appreciate them, and Shu Xiaofeng, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage, has announced that there will be no scaffolding around old buildings during the Olympic Games, when Beijing expects to host approximately 2.5 million domestic and foreign visitors.


On 11 July 2007, Xinhua News Agency tabled a remarkable report regarding the possible existence within the tumulus mausoleum of China's First Emperor of a building that could be as tall as 30 metres. A research fellow of the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeological Research Institute, Duan Qingbo, who has been long engaged in archaeological research of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, was quoted by the News Agency as saying, 'The building is 30 meters high, buried within the pyramid-like earth above the tomb's main portion underground. This is actually a feature of Chinese ancient tombs. We discovered this 30 meter building after conducting research on the internal structure.' Duan said that the structure is located above the tomb's main portion below the pyramid-like earth. It has four, giant, surrounding stair-like walls, that rise to 30 metres above the ground and are 6-8 centimetres thick.

Duan added, 'We have discovered many tiles in upper levels outside the east, west and north walls. The tiles accumulated near the top of the stairs. Several were found in lower levels. However, we seldom found tiles on the top surface of the stair-like wall. There is no sign of burnt clay and coal, either.' He continued, 'In terms of the shape of the stair-like walls, we understand it be a wooden structure with four surrounding stair-like walls consisting of nine steps each.'

'The tall building must have been completed before the emperor died, but was dismantled just before erecting it in the tumulus. The tumulus may have been set in place after the emperor was buried.'

The discovery was made when the tumulus was recently examined with integrated remote sensory and geophysical technology, used to verify aspects of the internal structure of the tomb. Duan said he believed the building may have been built for the departure of the emperor's soul. Liu Qingzhu, a senior research fellow with the Archaeological Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, 'It is perhaps no surprise for the emperor to build this kind of strange structure, as he often thought of something out of the ordinary.'

Other archaeologists are sceptical about Duan's extraordinary claims. Chen Jingyuan points out that the Shaanxi Archaeological Research Institute has only begun using remote sensory technology in studies of the tomb and only by using exact scientific theories of architecture can scientists interpret the data obtained from remote sensory technology. Chen believes that it is inaccurate to refer to the structure as a 'building', and that Duan's requires more conclusive evidence for his conclusions.

The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is about 50 metres high. The distance between the southern and northern ends of the base of the tumulus is 350 metres; and from east to west the tumulus measures 345 metres in length. It is the largest tomb of any ancient Chinese emperor. Historical records indicate that the emperor spent about 38 years constructing the tomb, on which 720,000 laboured.