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Preserve the past to live the future

Updated: 2015-03-12 10:46:27

( Chinaculture.org )

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A photo taken on Sept 12, 2009 shows Dapin village in Mengxian county, Yangquan city of North China's Shanxi province. The villagehad just 17 residents and it had no doctors, pharmacies or shops. The houses in the village were built by stone on mud with more than 40 courtyards and some were about 1,200 years old. The village residents ranged in age from 50 to 86 and lived a peaceful life by farming. It was listed in the first batch of villages collected in the Chinese Traditional Villages Catalog in 2012. [Photo by Cheng Yu/Asianewsphoto]

How and why we should protect China's traditional villages and rural culture is a discussion that can go on and on. Thanks to the insiders, experts and entrepreneurs who talked to us in this special coverage, our insight into Chinese traditional villages has gone one step further.

Traditional Chinese villages, the carriers of China's agricultural history and culture, are vanishing at an alarming rate. The protection work allows no time to delay: Rapid urbanization demolishes old villages to make way for modern construction; young people are eager to discard their rural legacy to embrace city life; abandoned houses crumble into dust without protection; irrational commercial development makes traditional villages "traditional" no more; fire hazards widely exist in rural areas and we hear of villages burning down all the time.

Statistic show that China had 3.7 million villages in 2000, and that figure had dropped to 2.6 million in 2010. About 900,000 villages have vanished over the past 10 years, a loss of about 300 a day. "I am not shocked by this number, and the reality could be worse," said Li Huadong, secretary general of the Conservation and Development Center of Chinese Traditional Village.

Current situation and efforts

Luo Deyin, a Tsinghua University professor of architecture and a long-time researcher in traditional villages, describes the current situation of China’s traditional villages as "seriously damaged but with a large amount remaining."

His view echoed that of He Wei, an architect and professor with the Central Academy of Fine Arts. He pointed out that China has a huge number of traditional villages, especially in South China. "The number is too big that local people and governments tend not to make a fuss over a discarded village," He said. "What's more, protecting a village does not bring any person or party instant benefit, so nobody does it."

To save the endangered villages, the central government launched a special task force in 2012 to investigate which villages needed protection. The special project initially involved four departments: the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Ministry of Culture, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and Ministry of Finance. The line-up later became larger, as the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Land and Resource and the China National Tourism Administration joined forces.

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