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Regulation aimed at protecting ancient structures

Hui-style architecture, found in Anhui and Jiangxi provinces, is characterized by buildings with white walls and grey or black roofs. It is considered to be a “living fossil” of ancient Huizhou culture. But the task of protecting these buildings is becoming more urgent.

With a new regulation allowing citizens to become custodians of ancient architecture, more people are joining the effort to preserve this ancient cultural heritage.

At the foot of Huangshan Mountain in East China’s Anhui province sprawl clusters of grey-tiled, white-washed houses—the typical scene from any traditional Chinese landscape painting. This Hui-style architecture is one of the major Chinese architectural styles, dating back to the Song Dynasty. Huangshan is home to numerous such ancient buildings, but they are gradually disappearing.

According to the third national survey on cultural relics, more than 40,000 supposedly “immovable” relics have disappeared in the past 30 years, with more than half that number destroyed by new construction.

“The costs for protecting and preserving these ancient buildings are huge. For example, it would cost over 100 million yuan to maintain an ancient Hui-style house with an area of 200 square meters. The government alone can only preserve those that require the most urgent care. And people are just reluctant to restore or preserve the ancient buildings,” engineer Hu Rongsun said.

But the situation is changing. In October 2014, local authorities passed a regulation that allows citizens to become custodians of ancient architecture. The regulation recognizes the claiming of historic buildings by both individuals and organizations with sufficient assets to help with their maintenance and protection.

Custodians would be allowed to develop the buildings within strict conditions, while the ownership would not be changed.

With this new regulation, more people are joining the effort to preserve the ancient structures, restoring them and turning them into art galleries or coffee houses.

“The property rights dictate that the buildings belong to the public, but whoever uses them will protect them. It’s a great way to preserve the ancient buildings. They are incorporated into people’s lives and have gained a new life. Protection does not necessarily mean lock them up and keep them away from people,” said Yu Huai, a Hui-style house owner.

The local authorities are now working on simplifying the procedure for claiming the ancient houses, and are also calling on more people to join in the cause of preserving these buildings for many generations to come.