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History's future crumbling to ruins

2013-12-27 16:20 Xinhua Web Editor: Mo Hong'e

At Xishan Mountain, a sacred Buddhist site in south China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, besides receiving pilgrims, the monks and nuns have a unique role: firefighters.

Earlier this month, a monk rang the old bell in the Longhua Temple, summoning everyone on the mountain to a fire drill. The gray frocked monks and nuns, rushed to the scene, and used extinguishers to put out the flames within ten minutes, with the help of professional firemen.

The idea of the special "fire brigade" did not fall from the sky. In Xishan, there are two ancient Buddhist structures: the Longhua Temple built in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the Xishi Nunnery erected during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Both are mostly made of wood and have stood in the sparsely forested mountains for hundreds of years. They are highly susceptible to fire. A single spark could ignite a catastrophe, said Yang Hongsheng, a fire fighter from Guiping City, where the mountain is located.

It is a great help to Yang's fire brigade that the Buddhists have been trained to help handle an emergency while the fire brigade is racing to the rescue.

The firefighting team of eight monks and six nuns, are directly managed by the abbot of the Longhua Temple and the abbess of the Xishi Nunnery.

Abbot Zhan Kong, said that the monks in the temple are very familiar with the landscape and escape routes, just one of the advantages which makes them such a good fire brigade.

The holy site will welcome many visitors during Spring Festival next month, and more people means a higher risk of fire, so the Buddhists have stepped up their patrols.

"You cannot be too careful when it comes to protecting our heritage. To start with, we actually live in the temple," Zhan Kong added.

This good example of Xishan comes at a time when many other areas in China are failing their precious heritage.

On Nov. 28, in Chongqing, Asia's "No.1 Covered Bridge" was destroyed by fire.

In October, one of four famous gardens in Dongguan City, the Daosheng Garden with over 150 years of history, was demolished by the local government.

Earlier this year, eight ancient cities, including Dali in the southwestern Yunnan Province, were warned by the central government for their inability to protect their local cultural heritage.

Stories of vandalism abound and have generated numerous headlines in recent years both at home and abroad, tarnishing the image of the Chinese people and worrying experts, anxious about the future of history.


Since 1978 when serious reform got underway, China has been striving to protect its past. The 1982 Cultural Relics Protection Law, was an institutional guarantee for historical relics. The China branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) later issued protection regulations for Chinese cultural relics sites with the assistance of the state administration of cultural heritage (SACH). Various local regulations have sprung up.

According a national archaeological survey from 2007 to 2011, there are more than 760,000 registered unmovable cultural relics and 2,384 state museums holding 28.6 million items of interest.

In May, the SACH added another 1,943 unmovable sites to the list of key areas that need protection, taking the total to 4,295.

Reviewed by more than 130 experts, the new sites in Shanxi, Henan, Hunan, Hebei and Jiangsu provinces, contain 795 pieces of ancient architecture and 516 ruins as well as stone inscriptions and outstanding modern architecture.

Despite some progress, preservation has been quite imbalanced, with many delinquent areas, said Lyu Zhou, deputy director of ICOMOS-CHINA.

According to the SACH's survey in 2011, of three quarters of a million unmovable cultural relics, roughly 130,000 (18 percent) were considered to be in a bad condition and over 60,000 were described as "terrible". This means that about one fourth of the relics need serious protection.



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