No more than 5,000 historic villages left in China
Not all villages are historic villages. A village must meet four criteria to be considered "historic," according to Feng Jicai, chairman of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Association (CFLAS).
First, it must have a long history, which remains an important part of the lives of its residents. Second, it must have a relatively complete layout and well-preserved public facilities such as streets, temples, stages, bridges, wells, and steles. Third, the village's intangible cultural heritage must be protected well. Fourth, it must have distinctive regional characteristics.
Li Yuxiang, a photographer focusing on historic villages, believes that of the hundreds of thousands of villages in China, only about 3,000 to 5,000 villages can be considered "historic."
Liao Ben, vice chairman of the Chinese Writers' Association, said that traditional villages featuring Han culture, the integration of Confucianism and the traditional Chinese family system, and the integration of living environment and natural and cultural elements represent a complex cultural space, and had long been dominant in China. They still have significant influence on the cultural thought of Chinese, the Confucian cultural circle in Asia, and Chinese communities Worldwide, and are extremely valuable and nonrenewable cultural resources.
How to protect historical villages
Feng has long been worried that the tragedy of most Chinese cities looking almost the same may be repeated in villages, and various unique historic villages may be swept away like garbage. He said that historic villages were the basic unit of lives and culture in the agricultural society, and we can find the roots of the Chinese culture from the historical remains in these villages. If they are all demolished, China's intangible cultural heritage will lose its carriers.
The CFLAS, which is committed to rescuing intangible cultural heritage, does not have enough money or power to accomplish the task of preserving historic villages on its own. Since 2003, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MHURD) and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) have selected 169 villages as the country's Famous Historical and Cultural Villages. Closed and dilapidated villages that are not aware of the importance of historical preservation are certainly ignored as they are incapable of preserving the cultural DNA of the Chinese nation.
Somewhat gratifyingly, the MHURD, Ministry of Culture, SACH, and Ministry of Finance issued a joint notice on April 16 requiring related county-level governmental agencies to use their own resources to carry out surveys of traditional villages, marking the first important step in preserving historic villages.
It will be a difficult process to keep historic villages well protected. Wan Jianzhong, a professor at Beijing Normal University, has put forward a seemingly radical but actually reasonable suggestion. He suggested that the government should provide subsidies to native residents of historic villages, encourage them to live in historic villages, and make it their job to preserve these villages.