UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Organisation


Zilan Wang

I am a PhD student in the Department of Social Anthropology in Cambridge University, and also a member in the Steering Committee of the Women’s History Network.
My PhD thesis project focuses on the maternity practices in the ethnic groups of Southwestern China, and the research topics encompass the magic, science, history and socio-political implications related to this cultural phenomenon.
In addition, I am the acting coordinator of a Britain-China initiative aiming at the recording, archiving, presentation, and conservation of the vanishing culture heritage in Southwestern China which is directed by Professor Alan Macfarlane in Cambridge.

Selected publications
- Zilan Wang et al, Convention & Exposition Tourism In Wuhan, China: From the Viewpoint of Landscape Ecology , Proceeding of 2003 Convention & Expo Summit, Hong Kong, August, 2003 (Best Paper Award)
- Zilan Wang & Keling Wang On the Traditional Religionry Sceneries in Famous Mountain Scenery Tourism of China Proceeding of the Second Asia-Pacific CHRIE Conference &The Sixth Biennial Conference on Tourism in Asia, Thailand , May, 2004
- Zilan Wang, Vanishing Culture: the Loss and Preservation of Arts and Crafts in Maternity Practice 14 th Conference of the Women’s History Network, Women, Art and Culture: Historical Perspectives, UK, September, 2005
The “Integrity” in the Criteria for World Heritage Ratification

All the inscribed World Heritage properties in China have been incorporated into economic activities of relevant sectors, especially the tourism industry. This economic exploitation of the World Heritage sites reflects China’s strong motivation to boost its economy and the effect of Chinese political and cultural traditions on the modern Chinese society. The coverage of World Heritage in Chinese media brings substantial reputation to those inscribed sites. Since most of the sites are entities of tourism resource, their elevated reputation fit perfectly with tourism industry where the development plan for a particular tourist site is usually designed according to its reputation and the main part of the plan is to exploit the economic potential of this reputation. “World Heritage tourism” has become a guiding force in Chinese tourism industry. It deeply influences the categorization and value assessment system of the industry, and it also contributed substantially to the preservation and sustainable development of the tourism resource. Beyond any doubt Chinese tourism industry benefits enormously from the economic and cultural activities based on this type of reputation-oriented resources.

The media coverage of the World Heritage also generates a profound effect on the administration agencies of the Chinese government and its affiliated academic departments. The emphasis on this issue, which is induced actively by the administrative momentum and passively by the popular opinions of the academia, has resulted in huge investment in human and material resources and as a consequence a series of projects about World Heritage have been carried out by government agencies and academic institutions. Most of the World Heritage properties in China were originally famous for their scenic and historical culture. After their inscription into the World Heritage List, these sites was considered to be of great value for the development of culture and economy (especially urban economy) by many Chinese government officials and scholars in related disciplines. In their opinion, the sublime nature of the “world Heritage” can bring exceptional reputation to the cities possessing these sites. They can therefore be used as the new “name cards” or “landmarks” of the cities, or as the proof of administrative achievement of the city government, and all these will bring more opportunities and hopes for project design, investment attraction and economic development. Therefore, almost all the scenic and historic sites possessing the potential to become a World Heritage site have been included into the development projects of the local governments, and enormous amount of money and intelligence was invested in media campaigns aiming at publicizing those sites. And, obviously the application for inscription into the World Heritage Lists has become a “hotspot” in the opinion of both Chinese government and academia.

The administrative bodies responsible for Chinese World Heritage sites have conducted a series of endeavors with great significance according to the basic criteria for World Heritage ratification (World Heritage Convention, Article 1): natural or cultural relics with “outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological point of view”, etc. In addition, encouraged by the international recognition of its effort on the preservation of World Heritage sites, Chinese government put even more emphasis on the protection and development of the Heritage sites.

The protection, management and tourism development of the World Heritage sites in China faces with many undeniable problems, which stem from the political ideology (“Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”) and administrative system in modern China, e.g. the contradiction between the formal text of laws and their local applications. In the following are several typical examples in recent years. In 2002, the main hall of the Taoism temple “Yu Zhen Gong” (built in 14th -15th century A.D.) in Mont Wudang, Hubei Province was burnt down. Fu Zhen Guan, another building in the Mont Wudang Taoism architecture complex, was rebuilt as a three star hotel. There are also issues which are the targets of disputes. For example, heated dispute was associated with the closure and re-opening of the first sightseeing elevator in Zhang Jia Jie Region, Hunan Province. Two more elevators were built after that. The dam construction project upstream to the Du Jiang Yan in Sichuan Province is another example. The Village Zhou in Jiangsu Province was deserted by travel agencies because the “commercial atmosphere is overwhelming”. Nanxun County (Zhejiang Province), which was originally considered as a potential World Heritage nominee, was criticized for the “western atmosphere” of its pubs. The most recent example related to the heritage preservation is the anti-infiltration project of the lake bottom in “Yuan Ming Yuan” (Beijing), a previous royal garden of Qing Dynasty.

In China there are many tangible and intangible cultural relics with great potential to become World Heritage sites, and in the remote regions of the country there are many well-preserved natural heritage sites. However, the protection, management and development of the Chinese World Heritage sites is a very difficult issue due to 1) the political ideology (“Chinese characteristics”) and the national character of Chinese people, 2) the overwhelming momentum of economic development in China.

Similar to the situation in the development of scenic and historic sites, the tourism element in the Chinese World Heritage sites was considered as the most active element for profit-making. This conception, combined with the ideology and methodology of “Chinese characteristics”, resulted in the overload and misplacement in the development of World Hertiage tourism. As a consequence of this development strategy, the World Heritage sites were artificialized, commercialized and urbanized, which in turn caused serious destruction of the natural or cultural eco-systems in these sites and substantial devaluation of their natural, aesthetic, and spiritual values. Facing with these situations, Dr. Xie Ning Gao, the director of the Research Center for World Heritage in Peking University, appealed for a Preservation Law for World Heritage in China. The establishment of this Law, according to Dr. Xie, will facilitate the optimization of the World Heritage management system.

We carried out a serious of research work on the resource assessment, preservation and tourism development of Chinese World Heritage sites. We participated in a project to comprehensively preserve the Mont Wudang in Hubei Province and to lay out the masterplan for its tourism development. We were also involved in the decision-making process concerning the preservation project for the Xian Ling (Ming Dynasty) in Zhongxiang, Hubei Province. In addition, we collected and analyzed a series of cases where the administrative practice conflicts with the principles of the World Heritage Convention in the context of other research projects about Chinese World Heritage resource. As the results of this research effort, we published several academic articles in the annual meetings and summit meetings organized by the Pacific Asia Travel Association and coordinated by the School of Hotel and Tourism Management of Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

The discussion in these papers focuses on the “authenticity” and the “integrity” in the criteria for World Heritage ratification. The criterion of authenticity was given special attention. We concluded from our investigation and analysis that, the most critical problem of all the Chinese World Heritage sites is the comprehension, appreciation and implementation of the “authenticity” criterion. The “authenticity” should have two inseperable bases: the authenticity of the heritage entity, and the authenticity of the spatial environment around the heritage entity. In addition, the eco-system that formed and sustained the heritage entity should also be included. Apparently no heritage site can keep absolute nascent status due to the historical intervention of human activities.According to the Heritage Convention, efforts should be made to preserve the remaining nascent status of the heritage sites. Our interpretation of this statement is that, the status of protected ancient heritage sites should ideally similar to their status before the era of Western industry revolution.

For the remaining heritage sites surviving the industry revolution, the World War II, and particularly the devastating Chinese Culture Revolution, effort should be made to keep their nascent status, and any “ecological restoration” should be carefully carried out after sufficient scientific investigation and evaluation. The “nascent status” refers to the heritage entity, its spatial environment, and the entire eco-system containing both. The preservation of the aforementioned nascent status has been better carried out in undeveloped countries or developed countries where the postmodernism is the mainstream ideology. On the other hand, preservation work is much more difficult in East Asian countries with traditional political systems, such as China. In the preservation projects of the Chinese World Heritage sites or many ancient heritage sites with great potential, emphasis has been given to the heritage entity itself, while the surrounding spatial environment and the overall eco-system were largely ignored. As a consequence of this practice, damage, inauthenticity, and counterfeiting are very common phenomena in Chinese heritage sites, which is exactly the most tough challenge faced by the Heritage Committee of UNESCO.

The guidance given by the Committee to the work in China in recent years has also focused on the authenticity and integrity of the heritage entity. When it comes to the spatial environment and eco-system, their importance were pointed out but detailed guidance was not formulated. It seems that deep and scientific intervention is impossible facing the political and economic background of China, which is exactly the cause of the degradation of the nascent status. Here comes in several issues: 1) the determination of the overall concept of “authenticity”, 2) the international point of view on the Chinese traditional political and cultural factors that are part of the “Chinese characteristics” 3) The assessment of value judgment and the discrimination /selection of consensus. We believe that, in addition to the search for historic origin of the problem from Chinese traditional culture, one can also extract positive, universally recognized cultural elements from the same source.

The concepts about the integrity of landscape-scenic sites and about eco-system can be found in the classical works of ancient China. Clear thought about natural eco-system and compatible regulations of government administration was documented in Li Ji Yue Ling, which is dated 3rd century B.C. Based on the eco-system theory in Li Ji Yue Ling and the “Feng Shui” theory of environment that has been gradually established since 3rd century A.D., Guo Xi, a great scholar on fine art theory and landscape ecology theory, proposed a “natural organic complex” theory in which nature, human race, and the humanity created by human race form a harmonic entity. More explicitly, the theory proposes that the mountains, waters, Qi (comparable to air), plants, animals, the productive and entertaining activities of human race, and the urban/rural architecture are all incorporated into a natural, harmonic, peaceful and stable living system. These elements of life depend on each other for their respective existence; they have outward relationships in spatial dimensions judged by landscape vision, and they also have inward logic relationships judged by the dynamics of the living system.

Apparently, Guo Xi’s “natural orgnanic complex” theory and his landscape ecology model is a landscape ecology theory with Chinese characteristics and at the same time acceptable for global humanity. One appropriate example is the Forbidden City in Beijing, which is the previous imperial palace for the Ming and Qing Dynasty and currently a World Heritage site. According to Guo Xi’s theory, Mont Xi (at the junction of Yanshan Range and Taihang Range) is on one hand the connecting mountain in the visual aesthetic field of the Forbidden City, and on the other hand the “ Life Mountain” in the logical connections of the Feng Shui elements. On other words, this mountain is a cultural symbol of nation and territory and a symbol of the capital region and its significance in military geography; it is “a mountain to be depended on”. When visualizing the Forbidden City from a view of landscape vision, Mont Xi should be visible from Beijing, and Mont Xi is a geographic prerequisite for the environmental configuration of Beijing. This outward and inward relationship constitutes the real “integrity” of the “Forbidden City” as a World Heritage site.

To the best of our knowledge, this aspect of the issue has not been pointed out by the World Heritage Committee. In our papers on international journals, we discussed several similar cases and propose to enlarge the protection dimension and content of the World Heritage. This is exactly our expectation for the future work of the World Heritage Committee. We think that Guo Xi’s “natural organic complex” landscape theory has global significance for the human race, which obviously includes its significance for the protection and sustainable development of World Heritage.

Europe and North America Latin America and the Caribbean Africa Arab States Asia Pacific