Why China is so obsessed with world heritage

| August 15th, 2010

When the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to include the China Danxia Landform in the World Heritage List at its 34th meeting in Brazil, it also gave rise to a wave of “heritage fever” in China. According to Ministry of Construction, China presently have 35 items including the West Lake in Hangzhou on the waiting list for world heritage recognition. There is even a saying that plenty more local intentions have lined up on the agenda for the next century.

Behind the fever, it was uncovered that applying for world heritage demands surprisingly huge funding as the six geologically-related Danxia Landform areas have spent over 1 billion yuan to win the recognition. Lang Mountain(崀山) in Xinning County as One of the six areas spent over 400 million yuan for the application when its GDP only broke 200 million till 2008. Where has all the money been? Why does Chinese government become so extravagant when it comes to world fame?

GZdaily reported that it is more about economic drive than just fame. Governments take delight in talking about the myth of world heritage boosting GDP by driving tourism. Take Ancient City of Ping Yao(平遥古城) as an example, since its gain of world heritage recognition in 1997, its tour ticket income rose from 1.25 million yuan to 75 million in 2008; overall tourism income jumped from 12.5 million to 670 million in 2008 and the tourism percentage in GDP also increased from 0.96% in 1997 to 13.91% in 2008. However, not all world heritages work out so successful – Lychee County in Guizhou Province is in over 200 million debts because of the chase after the name of world heritage.

It seems that China’s world heritage fever is backed by the norm of “Economic thrives in culture’s name”. In fact, price rise of tour ticket comes almost naturally after world heritage recognition. Many scenic spots such as Zhangjiajie(张家界), Xidi Hongcun(西递宏村), Jiuzhai Valley(九寨沟), Yellow Mountain(黄山) etc. all give their ticket price substantial rise. There is little probability for Danxia Landform to stay cool after spending more than 1 billion yuan to gain the world heritage fame.

On the other hand, Britain as one of the most active applicants for world heritage announced in 2008 that Britain would take a break in the game due to too much maintenance cost with too little tourism benefits.

Europeans take it for granted to protect cultural relics and scenic spot and tie it with protecting history and national honor. Economic benefits to them are more of realistic consideration than the goal of applying for world heritage itself; whereas China almost draws an equal mark between world heritage recognition and tourism development. In some places, protection is only by-product of world heritage recognition, local governments will exert to loan or raising ticket prices to make up the cost.

(Source from GZdaily and Netease.)

27 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. vonskippy says:

    I thought communism was against vanity.

  2. Crystal says:

    But there are indeed hundreds of beautiful scenery spots in China each of them deserving to be in the World Heritage List…

    • xino says:

      yes but China doesn’t want to share, they don’t like foreigns

      • 老外 says:

        you are damn right bro….. the don’t like foreigners at all but without foreigners they would never get to where they are right now.

        • Chole says:

          who you are to say this? Have you been to China before? foreigners are highly respected there, and don’t judge a nation by some of its people….

  3. Carl says:

    billions of dollars might as well have been used to demolish the next door paper mill thereby preserving the scenery and the local people. But NO00oooo

  4. jiang says:

    others who have nothing to be listed, pls don’t be red-eyes. or is it green-eyes.

  5. Mark says:

    Let a thousand hotels and restaurants blossom!

  6. Eason says:

    Because they’re assholes?

  7. Eidolon says:

    For the most part, “world heritage sites” have always been about tourism and economics, no matter where they are.

  8. Andy says:

    i wonder what other monuments and buildings and sites would be on the World Heritage list if the they weren’t destroyed during the Cultural revolution. Hurray for the 民革!

  9. Andy says:

    i wonder what other monuments and buildings and sites would be on the World Heritage list if the they weren’t destroyed during the Cultural revolution. Hurray for the 民革!a

    • SDS says:

      Agreed. Some may say its ironic to now scurry for protection of its ‘cultural’ sites. But then again most would agree that the present CCP ain’t too hot about celebrating everything in every detail that Mao Zedong did. They are just not outright admitting it to save some FACE!

  10. gao says:

    The direct (local) reason is that they can multiple the ticket price…seriously.

  11. Tracy says:

    I think it is a good thing for applying for world heritage, but I don’t know why spend too much money for this. Everyone has responsibility to protect environment, scenic spots, culture, architecture, most of people in China have the same idea.

    • SDS says:

      Disregarding the question whether UNESCO has become another marketing ploy for tourism, I am not sure those sites in China that its applying for are really under any danger of extinction or is of any value to the general humanity. But I suppose its not all that hard to meet 1 of the 10 criteria UNESCO now endorses for admission onto the heritage list.

  12. Hm… could it be that some folks believe if the site is declared a “world hertiage” – then the powers to be in Beijing will make it a point to prevent greedy local officials from plowing the site under for “development”?

    • Potomacker says:

      Interesting angle. It does seem to be a strategy of the central to use international ‘pressure’ as cover whenever it tries to reign in the excesses of local authorities. Otoh, it also ties in with the theme of developing softpower, trying to get the PRC on the top of even obscure lists like the countries with the most world heritage sites. Woohoo! Right?
      On the other, other hand these efforts can also distract the masses from the overall and ongoing damage to the environment and ‘minor’ sodeemed historic relics.

  13. Ian says:

    Lijiang is classed as world heritage site, It’s like disney land for the Chinese. At night a lot of clubs open pumping out hardcore trance on to the street. How can you class this place as world heritage. Also another thing I have been to the most beautful places in China and its always spoilt by the Chinese throwing litter FACT.

  14. dongzide says:

    Because they can make money

  15. pai kan says:

    China’s obsession with praise and recognition is based on a deep inferiority complex.

    Because it is a “face saving” culture, any loss of “face” or gaining of “face” is a serious matter.

    China’s so-called strength is very superficial. It is based on flash and illusion.

    China will host any kind of forum, conference, or beauty contest simply to get its name in the paper. It needs confirmation from the international community, especially the white world.

    Getting listed on the world heritage site is just another example of a country that has a deep sense of inferiority.

  16. mode20100 says:

    A+ would read again

  17. China has very strong culture from their root. Go go china! beat the japan!

  18. 1371Great idea Shennon for excellent time utilization but we cant be productive all the time after all its human body and need rest too. All of us work really hard in office and after two or three hours of work we really need a break

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