4th national census set for cultural relics

2023-11-01 08:19:38China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

The fourth national census of cultural relics will begin this month, with the aim of gaining a comprehensive grasp of the scope of the country's immovable cultural heritage sites, the State Council, China's Cabinet, has announced.

A database on cultural relics resources will be established. The identification and management of the relics, as well as protection mechanisms, will be improved. Moreover, professional talent for the protection of cultural relics will be cultivated, and awareness of relics protection will be raised in the whole society, according to the announcement on Friday.

Three censuses have previously been organized since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. The third one, conducted from 2007 to 2011, identified a total of 766,722 immovable cultural heritage sites nationwide.

"Through the former three censuses, our understanding of the connotations and values of cultural relics continued to deepen," the National Cultural Heritage Administration said in a statement. "We have extended the scope of cultural relics protection and improved the protection system for historical and cultural heritage."

Zhang Wenrui, director of the Hebei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, who participated in the second and third censuses, said the censuses continue to be crucial.

Cultural heritage sites "are vulnerable to construction projects like the building of high-speed railways and expressways. Therefore, some of them may disappear or shrink over the years. Mastering the true situation is necessary and can be important for protection in the future", said Zhang.

After such a census, protection lists at various levels, including provincial and national, are often released to protect endangered sites, he added.

Zhang organized efforts in Hebei province for the third census. From 2007 to 2009, more than 50 teams were formed to conduct surveys in over 5,000 villages, and 33,943 immovable cultural heritage sites in Hebei were checked.

The latest census will run through June 2026 and will be conducted in three stages. The first stage, from November to April, will establish census institutions at different levels, determine technical standards and specifications, and conduct training.

During the second stage, from May next year till May 2025, sites at the county level, which is the basic unit in the census, will be surveyed. In the third stage, from June 2025 to June 2026, the sites will be identified, registered and publicly announced, and a general national catalog will be established.

Heritage professionals will check all the aboveground, underground and underwater immovable cultural heritage sites across China, including rechecking registered sites and identifying newly discovered ones.

The survey will record detailed information on each site, including its name, location, type and ownership.

The announcement on Friday emphasized that if any registered cultural relics are found to have been damaged or lost due to human activities or inadequate supervision, it will be necessary to investigate and handle the situation in accordance with the law, find out who is to blame and report to the relevant departments.

Zhang said that technological measures can play a big role in the new census.

"We used to record information by taking photos and using tapes, … but now GPS, drones and three-dimensional scanning can help a lot, leading to more accurate records and better protection," he said.

For example, when they previously found tablets with inscriptions, the common method of recording information was to make rubbings of the tablets, despite the risk of harming the tablets. Now they can use three-dimensional scanning to record information, Zhang said.

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