More funds will be mobilized to protect endangered heritage that is currently outside government domain, according to a top official of the Culture Ministry.
The move comes in the wake of related national guidelines released by the State Council, China’s cabinet, in February.
The State Administration of Cultural Heritage, affiliated to the ministry, is drafting relevant rules on social participation in projects that involve privately owned cultural items, Zhu Xiaodong, director of the agency’s legal department, told a news briefing last week.
How best to protect cultural relics that are in individual possession is a question that Zhu and the ministry are now trying to answer.
“Many old residences, for example, are immovable cultural relics, and it is difficult to allow public revenue for private property,” Zhu says.
That aside, when the owners renovate such residences, they tend to introduce new facilities and unintentionally harm the original facades.
“Their personal incomes are usually far from enough to support huge projects,” he adds.
China has inscribed 2,555 national-level traditional villages that have some 11,000 immovable cultural relics, including 6,600 traditional residences, the ministry’s data show.
“The vast majority of such residences is privately owned, and it is estimated that two-thirds of them are in poor condition due to the lack of repairs over long periods,” Zhu says.
Relics’ protection in traditional villages will be the first to benefit from the new government initiative.
“People will thus be encouraged to better safeguard the cultural relics, and more creative channels are being discussed to fill the monetary void,” he adds.
According to the heritage administration, the country has 760,000 immovable cultural relic sites that government efforts alone can’t protect.
Even so, cultural authorities are working on creating a registry system and database for immovable cultural heritage based on results of a recent nationwide investigation.
“A single general investigation can only give us a panorama, but more specific policies need to be based on supervision of the dynamic changes in the field of cultural heritage,” Zhu says.
Experts say new policies in this regard can also work as a stimulus for the booming antiques market.
The government is also emphasizing the protection of intangible cultural heritage.
According to Ma Shengde, a supervisor in the ICH arm of the Culture Ministry, each national-level ICH inheritor will get 20,000 yuan ($3,100) annually in funds from this year onward, double the figure of earlier years.
While the money will be directly given to individuals to avoid lengthy bureaucratic procedures, a supervision mechanism and an annual evaluation process are being introduced to ensure that the funds are used for teaching or toward the inheritance of craftsmanship rather than just meeting the daily expenses of the ICH inheritors.
“The country encourages such inheritors to spread their knowledge of intangible heritage among the people,” Ma says. “But they also need to use the money in the right way.”