Posts Tagged ‘Preservation’

On August 1st, Ana Escobedo, the magnificent high schooler from california that has been spearheading the SAVE Kashgar Facebook initiative and petition (Petition and Cause Page both linked on the RIGHT —–>) published an article on SAFECORNER about how she got involved in the Kashgar initiative, and what protecting worthwhile cultural heritage sites means to her. Check out her well-written article HERE.

I have selected and reproduced here a few choice excerpts from her essay in order to tantalize your reader tastebuds:

To raise awareness for the cause and to rally supporters behind SAFE’s message I created a Facebook Cause page which I named “Save Kashgar ”. I loaded it with whatever information I had available to me at the time, which was only a few articles and the information I had gained from the SAFECORNER editorial. Later I was able to set up a Flickr group to create a photo documentation of the Old City. I also set up a petition appealing to the Chinese Cultural Minister to save what remained of the cultural heritage of this city. However, it quickly became apparent to me that this was so much more than a demolition of a city. It was the destruction of the Uyghur culture. A culture that had existed for hundreds of years in this location was being wiped out.

In an effort to find recruits to my newly formed cause page I reached out to the Uyghur and Archaeology related groups on Facebook. It was at this moment when I discovered I was not alone in this fight. I went to every group I could think of to let them know about what I was doing, but everywhere I went I found links to other Kashgar related Facebook pages. Groups such as “Save Kashgar, Xinjiang, China from Demolition!” and “Saving Kashgar” encouraged followers to raise their voices against the destruction. The creator of “Save Kashgar, Xinjiang, China from Demolition!,” Nikhat Rasheed, is responsible for aYouTube video further demonstrating the importance of Kashgar to the Uyghurs and the world. Her group has also sponsored an event in Toronto, Canada to show solidarity with the Uyghur people. On July 1, 2009, a group of Uyghurs performed a traditional dance in celebration of Canada Day. Members of this Facebook group attended, furthering the public display of unity with the Uyghur cause. Ms. Rasheed has also written a wildly popular petition that has raised almost 7,000 signatures in a short period of time. Another Facebook Cause page “Save Kashgar!,” created by dedicated advocate Miriam J. Woods, has generated a petition that has already received over 1,000 signatures. This petition asks President Obama and Congress to appeal to the Chinese government to cease the demolition. Her cause page is raising money for the Uyghur American Association/Uyghur Human Rights Project.

Before I saw the issue from my point of view as an archaeologist, but after these varied and passionate communications I saw that this was a human crisis. What has amazed me most over these past two months has been the number of people reaching out to me, telling me their story, letting me know that Kashgar was important to them too.

People like Marc Forster, the filmmaker responsible for films such as “Monster’s Ball,” “Finding Neverland” and “Quantum of Solace” are rallying behind the cause.

Kashgar has evoked an impassioned and ever-growing response, in me and many others. More and more people from around the world are reaching out and speaking out against this demolition and the destruction of a culture.

As for me, my heart goes out the Uyghurs who are losing the heart of their civilization. I will continue to support in the best way I can. My cause page is closing in on 700 members and it is my hope that I can continue to reach these people and keep them united in this work against this cultural and human crime.

Thanks Ana, for sharing with us not only your experience working on this important project, but also helping to organize and unite all the different interest groups so that we may have a common goal.

– Chiarch

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For anyone who can read Chinese (simplified), or who wants to practice their Chinese, HERE is an interesting article from www.popyard.org, a popular Chinese news website that discusses whether or not the Tomb of Qinshihuang should be excavated.

The famous mausoleum of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. – 206 B.C.), has reentered the news recently because of the 3rd excavation on the terracotta warriors pits that commenced earlier this month.

The mausoleum of the famed emperor himself has not yet been excavated, however, due to several competing arguments for and against it. First off, as the popyard opinion piece fervently opens with, “excavating the tomb of an ancient emperor for the sake of boosting curiosity and tourism is (should be) absolutely forbidden;” many Chinese feel that excavating this tomb would be akin to sacrilege, and that the tombs of the ancients, especially an ancient as well-known, respected, and somewhat feared as Qinshihuang should be left in peace and admired from afar. Second, even those who advocate for excavating the tomb are hesitant because they fear the corrosive effects of exposing whatever treasures the tomb may have to offer to the air, which has already been demonstrated on the paint once covering the terracotta warriors.

In addition, there are many myths and stories surrounding what may be contained inside that enormous mound that makes up the tomb, including poisoned arrows, rivers of mercury, and a plethora of guardian spirits. All of these stem from the well-known idea that Qinshihuang, during his lifetime, was obsessed with immortality, and took endless pains to ensure that his body and spirit would be preserved long after his death. If the grandiosity of the terracotta warrior pits so far found are any indication of how seriously Qinshihuang might have been about wanting his mortal remains to be protected, the sheer size of his mausoleum has been an effective deterrant for even the most curious Chinese scholar.

On a more practical level, the amount of tourism that the site has garnered in the last several decades has required the Chinese to ensure its protection. As a result this tomb is one of rare exceptions in China that has NOT been looted to within an inch of its life.

The question now is, what benefit would excavating the tomb bring not only to China, but also to the international community? Is the mausoleum better off untouched? Given all of the arguments against excavating it, dangers contained within, issues of conservation and preservation, and the dangers from without (looting), it is hard to imagine that any information about Qinshihuang and his time period that the tomb could tell us would be worth losing such a treasure. Even hard-nosed archaeologists and people who are pro-information gathering, sometimes have a difficult time speaking up against the tide that upholds the importance of keeping THIS tomb intact.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

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A June 10th news post on Xinhua.net has announced that a third excavation shall begin this weekend at the world-famous Qin Terra Cotta Warriors site near the ancient capital of Xian in Shaanxi Province, China. The site is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, which means that it fulfills UNESCO’s criteria for being a shining example of “human creative genius.”

Location of the ancient city of Xian, Shaanxi Province, China. (Map courtesy of airexpresstravel.net)

Location of the ancient city of Xian, Shaanxi Province, China. (Map courtesy of airexpresstravel.net)

Image inside Pit No. 1

Image inside Pit No. 1

The first day of excavation began on June 13th, and is intended to uncover and preserve approximately 2,152 square feet (~2000 square meters) of Pit No. 1, the largest of three pits containing the famed life-size terracotta warriors over the course of 5 years. This year, China’s State Administration of Cultural Relics has approved the opening of approximately 200 square meters of the site.

Pit No. 1 in the center

Pit No. 1 in the center of the image

According to CBS news, “special care will be taken to preserve the figures’ painted details, which have faded almost entirely in those already taken from the earth and exposed to air.”

The first day of excavation, on June 13th, 2009, began at 1:00 pm and lasted for approximately 5 hours. During this time, Chinese archaeologists uncovered 2 four-horse chariots.

One of the main problems with excavating these pottery sculptures is that preservation of their pigmentation has been notoriously difficult. when the warriors were first discovered in 1974, they were supposedly richly colored, though exposure to the air has caused much of this original painting to corrode. According to Xinhua news, preservation has been taken into consideration much more carefully this time around, and is currently “better than thought.”

Poor conservation methods has also been one of the reasons why the rest of the terracotta warriors were not excavated earlier in time. In addition, the bulk of Qin Shihuang‘s actual tomb and burial chamber remains untouched, and it is unsure when or how archaeologists in China plan to excavate it.

Exterior image of the mound that is Qin Shihuang's unexcavated mausoleum

Exterior image of the mound that is Qin Shihuang's unexcavated mausoleum

Qin Shihuang’s tomb site is one of the most important archaeological and cultural heritage sites in China (and in the world), and it is certainly one of the most frequented and well-known. This new excavation is sure to bring in quite a large amount of new tourists, and probably boost the popularity of this site in the coming years.

Hopefully the plans for preserving the color on these newly excavated warriors will be successful.

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According to a couple of articles that came out in years past, the Silk Road has been undergoing a long-term application process to become a World Heritage site. That means, according to one article, that sites and cultural relics along the Silk Road would have to be improved and protected,and adovacated for tourism. Apparently, in 2006, “more than 50 experts and heritage officials from UNESCO and China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan reached an agreement for a multinational application for Silk Road in UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.”

Going further, it would mean that the Chinese section of the Silk Road, specifically, the Oasis, or Northern, Route of the Silk Road, which includes Kashgar as a main oasis point, would be deemed a “cultural route,” which UNESCO defines in terms of “space (the route ran through sites, monuments, constructions, buildings, ways, and areas of influence); time (the beginning and end of its use, its frequency, intensity and variations) and cultural criteria (impact of spiritual and/or material exchanges; impact on human memory or experience, impact of the volume and nature of the exchanges).”

This project has been going on for quite some time, though it has not completely been approved yet.In 2006, a workshop was held in Turpan, Xinjiang in order to discuss the issue of nominating the Silk Road to World Heritage status, and to layout some ground plans for how to prepare the nomination. It was attended by members of the UNESCO World Heritage team, as well as experts and officials from Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and China, all of whom hold a stake in profiting from Silk Route protection and tourism. The mission of this workshop was to “develop a systematic approach towards the identification and nomination of the Chinese section of the Silk Road, and in particular the Oasis Route which, together with the Steppe Route and the Maritime Route, is one of three intercultural routes along the Silk Road., that will tell the story of the Chinese Silk Road in a comprehensive manner.”

Clearly, despite the efforts of international organizations, Kashgar is not being preserved well. What should be asked is: IS China’s current plan to demolish 85% of Old Kashgar legal within the parameters stipulated by the nomination of the Oasis Route of the Silk Road to the World Heritage Site list? Will the demolition threaten the nomination? Should it threaten the nomination? If Old Kashgar is destroyed, wouldn’t it cheapen the overall affect and “comprehensive manner” in which the Chinese section of the Silk Road should be presented to the public?

Or is there, as I’m afraid there might be, some loophole in which a site along the Silk Road can be destroyed and rebuilt, as long as it is rebuilt with attention paid to how the site SHOULD look? If this is the angle that China is trying to play, I’d like to know exactly what they are going to do to keep true to how Old Kashgar looked in the past, and how they are going to do it.

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“Chinese authorities have taken the rare step of banning tourists from a key protection area of the renowned Mount Wuyi on the World Heritage List to better preserve the environment…” was a statement from local authorities in Fuzhou, where Mt. Wuyi, which was named a World Cultural and Natural Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999, is located. the site comprises a national nature reserve and a scenic area in eastern Fujian Province.

Limestone karsts

Limestone karsts

According to the evaluation of the site made by UNESCO, archaeological evidence has shown that the Mountain area has been inhabited for more than 4,000 years. The people there gradually developed the Minyue culture, which was unique in this remote corner of China. The remains left by the many cultural groups that have occupied the area are still visible today.Some of the most well known archaeological sites in the area include, according to the article, a “Han City established in the 1st century B.C. and a number of temples and study centers associated with the birth of Neo-Confucianism in the 11th century A.D.”

Indeed, this region was well known to be somewhat of a hub of Neo-Confucian and Taoist intellectual activity, and was home to may of the 11th and 12th century academies, of which the famed Song Dynasty philosopher, Zhuxi, was a member.


In addition, the site is known for its biodiversity, including 11 categories of vegetation, 475 species of vertebrates, and 4,635 types of insects.

UNESCO World Heritage states that:

“Systematic conservation may be considered to have begun as early as the 8th century AD, when Tang
Emperor Xuanzhong
declared Wuyishan to be a celebrated mountain and issued an edict controlling
forestry operations, thereby protecting the landscape as a whole. The first supervisor of the area was appointed
by the Imperial court in 1121. Further protection and development control resulted from the establishment of
the Imperial tea plantation in 1302.”

The latest ban on tourism, which will only limit non-academic tourists from entering the very central area of the site (the scenic area surrounding Mt. Wuyi will remain open to the public), will the latest effort in the conservation of this cultural and natural treasure.

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“To Protect an Ancient City, China Moves to Raze It”

That was the title of the article that was published in the New York Times yesterday, May 28, 2009. Reaction to the proposed project to “demolish at least 85 percent of this warren of picturesque, if run-down homes and shops,” and relocate as many as 13,000 Uygher families, from the archaeological community should strong be immediate, and strong. Kashgar, known as 喀什市 in Chinese, is located on the extreme western side of China, in the Xinjiang Uygher Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. It is a city that lies in the heart of Central Asia, and was one of the most important cities along the ancient Silk Road. Today, it is a city that covers roughly 15 square kilometers, and is still an important connection point on routes between China and northern Pakistan over and around the Taklamakan Desert.

Location of Kashgar(Photo courtesy of http://www.chinahighlights.com)

As much influenced by Islamic and Turkish cultures as Chinese, the city has been known to exist in this area since the Han Dynasty (ca. 202 B.C. – 221 A.D.). Since that time, it has seen heavy traffic from people coming from Europe, Central Asia, and East Asia as they made their way through the city on the Silk Road Trading Route. Because of this, there is no need to discuss how important the city is in terms of archaeological patrimony. But it is this important cultural heritage that is now in imminent danger of destruction. According to the article, the razing of Kashgar’s Old Town, which is located in the very heart of the city, is aimed not only at “preserving Uigher culture,” but also to mitigate and avoid the hazards of earthquakes, which “could strike at any time, collapsing centuries-old buildings and killing thousands.”

Map of Kashgar(Photo courtesy of http://www.lonelyplanet.com)

China’s claims that they are actually protecting cultural heritage beg the question: why not simply relocate families who currently reside in supposed earthquake danger zones, without completely demolishing Kashgar Old Town only to rebuild it in the exact same place? After all, the article states that “In [the] place [of Old City] will rise a new Old City, a mix of midrise apartments, plazas, alleys widened into avenues and reproductions of ancient Islamic architecture.” This method of earthquake disaster prevention seems a bit odd to me. Even more unfortunate is the article’s mention that “Chinese security officials consider [Kashgar] a breeding ground for a small but resilient movement of Uighur separatists who Beijing claims have ties to international Jihadis. So redevelopment of this ancient center of Islamic culture comes with a tinge of forced conformity.” This single statement, I believe, strikes the true heart of the matter more than any claim made about earthquakes. It speaks to the unfortunate situation the modern world finds itself in where archaeological patrimony and cultural heritage is all too often used and manipulated in order to achieve political goals.

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There’s been quite a kerfuffle over this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/world/asia/28kashgar.html?scp=1&sq=kashgar&st=cse that came out in the New York Times today.

Personally, I feel like this situation is yet another example of how archaeological patrimony is used to achieve blatantly political means. I mean, thanks for trying to distract all of us by saying you’re worried about earthquake hazards in the area, but really, if you were truly that concerned about the well-being of the Kashgar residents, you could just relocate them to a new area and leave Old Kashgar alone. Does Three Gorges ring a bell? Yea, there’s precedent.

But all unnecessary ranting and finger-wagging aside, the situation with Kashgar is a clear indication that despite the passage of the MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] earlier this year, nothing is changing fast. Archaeological heritage is still in danger of destruction even though it is now prohibited for the United States to import any unprovenanced Chinese antiquities into its borders. This brings up the issue of the difference between movable and immovable cultural property. Sure, if you can’t move it, you can’t steal it. But it can still be destroyed, as we can clearly see in the article. Is it enough just protect movable cultural property? Does one type of cultural property take precedence over another?

These are only two questions that only scrape the tip of this iceberg-sized issue.

What I want to draw your attention to by posting the article is this: What good is a Memorandum of Understanding that prohibits a country from importing unprovenanced antiquities, when the government of the country that is the source of those antiquities seems have no qualms with destroying them? This is the Chinese situation in a nutshell, and so I felt that this article was an appropriate one with which to launch my little bloggie here. So, enjoy, chew on these ideas, and report back.

Also, big link dump coming up soon, and also check out: safecorner.savingantiquities.org for my spiel on the Kashgar issue that’s coming up soon!

ALSO check out: http://en.bjchp.org/english/indexen.asp for more on-the-ground information about the Kashgar crisis.

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