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New Exploration on the Protection of Chinese Military Cultural Heritage

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Taking the Practice of Nanjing City Wall Protection and Management Center Since Its Establishment as an Example

Zhou Yuan, History

Built in the middle of the 14th century, the Nanjing City Wall is a state-level key project designed and supervised by Zhu Yuanzhang (the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty). It is also the largest, most authentic, and best-preserved city wall in the world, featuring military architectural art during the peak of ancient Chinese city building history. (Fig.1) As one of the most important military cultural heritages in China, the protection, utilization, and inheritance of the Nanjing City Wall have been highly valued by the Nanjing Municipal Party Committee and Government, and have won extensive support from the citizens. Since the establishment of the Nanjing City Wall Protection and Management Center (hereinafter referred to as the “City Wall Center”) in 2014, several attempts were made in the protection practice with some success, but great challenges lie ahead. Focusing on the working practice of the City Wall Center since its establishment six years ago, this article preliminarily summarizes the new ways it discovered so as to provide reference for the protection of other Chinese military cultural heritage.

(Fig.1 Map of Capital Mountains and Rivers)

1. Unified Management

The Nanjing City Wall was composed of four parts: the palace city wall, the imperial city wall, the capital city wall, and the outer city wall. Among them, the capital city wall is 35.267 kilometers in length, with 25.091 kilometers still remaining today (Fig.2) while the outer city wall is 60 kilometers long, with 40 kilometers remaining. The area enclosed by the outer city wall measures up to 230 square kilometers. For such a large area, ruins and remains within the quadruple city walls exist in all parts of Nanjing today. (Fig.3) .Therefore, the protection and management of the Nanjing City Wall are linked to various government departments concerning gardening, planning, municipal administration, transportation, and water conservancy. (Fig.4). Particularly before 2014, different sections of the Nanjing City Wall belonged to various government agencies of varying types and levels, which brought great difficulties to its preservation. In February 2014, the Nanjing Municipal Party Committee and Government established the Nanjing City Wall Protection and Management Center by consolidating the City Wall Management Office, the Nanjing Ming City Wall History Museum, the Zhonghua Gate Management Office, the Wumen Park, and other units originally scattered in various districts and under the Municipal Bureau of Culture, Radio, TV, Film, Press, and Publication. The intention was to hurl constraints imposed by multi-head management on the protection of Nanjing City Wall, the application for World Cultural Heritage, and the display of ancient capital style.

(Fig.2 City Wall of Zhonghua Gate Section)

(Fig.3 City Wall of Xuanwu Lake Section)

(Fig.4 New Appearance of Ancient City)

The Nanjing City Wall Protection and Management Center is responsible for the overall protection and management of the quadruple city walls. It is a fully-funded public institution with 13 departments, 5 management offices, 6 decentralized offices, and 168 employees. Since its establishment, the City Wall Center has been shouldering many responsibilities. It is not only a city wall protection and management unit, but also an academic research institution, a national 5A scenic spot, (Fig.5),a museum housing many cultural relics, and a leading unit of a joint application for World Cultural Heritage of the city walls of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The integrated development of the five functions not only brings great challenges to the protection and management but also marks the distinctive features of the City Wall Center, which is totally different from other cultural relic protection units in China.

(Fig.5 Barbican at Zhonghua Gate)

2. Legislative Protection

In the 1970s and 1980s, the protection of Nanjing City Wall was just in its infancy, without legal restriction in the process of restoration and protection. Although there were laws on the overall protection of cultural relics, such as the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics, the protection and restoration of Nanjing City Wall was faced with many problems, including unclear responsibilities and difficulty in coordination since it was huge in size and involved many departments at that time. Furthermore, there were a large number of people who built houses under the city wall back then with low awareness of cultural relic protection. Therefore, the destruction of the city wall was common, and it was difficult to be held accountable under the circumstances. As such, the protection of Nanjing City Wall was in an urgent need of a special law and regulation.

On April 1, 2015, the Regulations on the Protection of Nanjing City Wall was officially issued by Jiangsu Provincial People’s Congress, which is the first special legal regulations on the Nanjing City Wall. The regulations put the original City Wall of Ming Dynasty (including the palace city wall, the imperial city wall, the capital city wall, and the outer city wall and its associated buildings), city walls (city gates), moats, city wall ruins, and city wall sites into the scope of protection planning (Fig.6). This has led to legalized, standardized, and strict protection which effectively reduces the illegal acts of destruction.

(Fig.6 Doorway of Xi’an Gate)

Under the guidance of the Regulations on the Protection of Nanjing City Wall and other relevant legal provisions, the Nanjing City Wall Protection and Management Center has carried out a series of protection work. For example, several wall body restoration projects have been completed, including the 2300 meters from Zhongshan Gate to Pipa Lake Section, the 900 meters from Biaoying Gate to Guanghua East Street, and the 200 meters of West Ganchang Alley Section, thus essentially connecting the top surface of the wall (Fig.7). It has also completed the protective exhibition project of “wall in the wall” in Qianhu Lake Section and won the commendation from the State Administration of Cultural Relics (Fig.8). In addition, it has carried out environmental improvement along the city wall and realized the full opening of 22 kilometers in 8 sections.

(Fig.7 City Wall of Pipa Lake Section)

(Fig.8 Before and After Protection Project for City Wall Gap in Qianhu Lake Section)

The protection of cultural relics refers to protecting “old things” with “new ideas”. The protection of the Nanjing City Wall was more than a renovation of the wall body; a series of cultural relics protection projects carried out with a macro vision, scientific means and systematic modes. Now, the Nanjing City Wall has developed a security monitoring system for the entire line and is promoting the construction of a monitoring and early warning platform according to the application requirements for World Cultural Heritage (Fig.9). Important cultural relic protection and exhibition projects such as the Protection Project of Barbican at Zhonghua Gate and the Exhibition Project of Imperial Palace of Ming Dynasty Site are also underway.

(Fig.9 Hazard Research on Main Body of Jiefang Gate Section)

3. Innovation and Inheritance

Academic research on the Nanjing City Wall began in the 1980s. After over 40 years of hard work, a large number of experts and scholars have emerged and published such important works as Nanjing City Wall of Ming Dynasty, The Annals of Nanjing City Wall, Nanjing Imperial Palace of Ming Dynasty, Brick Inscriptions of Nanjing City Wall, and The Study on Protection of Ancient Chinese City Walls, establishing the leading position of city wall research in the academic circle of the whole country. Since the founding of the City Wall Center, the new generation of scholars, inheriting the spirit of predecessors, has made great achievements in scientific research, publishing, communication, and academic associations.

During the past five years, the Nanjing City Wall has published many books, such as Ancient Chinese City Walls (6 volumes), Brick Inscriptions of Nanjing City Wall, Study on Nanjing City Wall, Old Photos of Nanjing City Wall, Research on Official Brick Kiln Site of Nanjing City Wall; completed the provincial key project Research on Protection and Maintenance of Nanjing City Wall of Ming Dynasty in Past 30 Years, and municipal key projects, including Research on Brick Production Standard for Protection and Restoration of Nanjing City Wall, Digitalization of Nanjing City Wall Memory, Cities and Walls under World Heritage, Archaeological Investigation of Nanjing Outer City Wall of Ming Dynasty, Database Construction of Nanjing City Wall Inscriptions and Comparative Study of Nanjing City Wall and Liangzhu Ancient City. These works cover various aspects, such as history and culture, protection and restoration, scientific utilization, as well as the comparative study of city walls between China and the world. At present, the first and second series of Chinese City Walls (biannual periodical) jointly sponsored by China City Wall Research Institute, Nanjing City Wall Protection and Management Center, and Institute of Cultural and Natural Heritage of Nanjing University have been officially published. This periodical is the first professional compilation in the field of city wall research in China, and its publication will greatly improve the research level of Chinese city walls. (Fig.10).

(Fig.10 Academic Achievements in Recent Years)

To improve the research on the Nanjing City Wall, the City Wall Center has extensively gathered forces from all walks of life from the society and universities since 2016. This effort has led the establishment and creation of an integrated model based on China City Wall Research Institute, Nanjing City Wall Research Seminar, and Nanjing Ancient Capital City Wall Protection Foundation to comprehensively promote the scientific protection and academic research of the Nanjing City Wall. In 2019, the City Wall Center and the Multimedia Center of Nanjing University signed a strategic cooperation agreement to jointly build a State Key Laboratory of S&T and Standards of Press and Publication Industry (content presentation and expression direction).

In recent years, the City Wall Center has also strengthened its foreign exchange and cooperation. (Fig.11) .In 2017, the Nanjing City Wall and Festung Königstein (a German castle) carried out exchange activities, organized exhibitions, and strengthened academic exchanges between the two countries. In May 2018, the City Wall Center assisted Nanjing in hosting the “2018 International Forum on Conservation and Utilization of Nanjing City Walls”, where hundreds of international experts and scholars were invited to offer suggestions for its protection, utilization, research and application for World Cultural Heritage. Subsequently, both Chinese and English versions of the Protection and Utilization of Nanjing City Wall were published after the meeting. (Fig.12). In March 2019, the Nanjing City Wall was published in UNESCO’s World Heritage, in which it officially revealed its beauty to the world. In March 2020, the City Wall Center became China’s first ICOFORT member, which provides a broad platform for the internationalization of Nanjing City Wall research.

(Fig.11 Cultural Exchange Activities)

(Fig.12 2018 International Forum on Conservation and Utilization of Nanjing City Walls)

4. Integration of Culture and Tourism

The Nanjing City Wall, which serves as a cultural forefront of the city, is also a popular tourist attraction. Considering tourism and culture always complement each other, we should not only use culture to enhance the quality and connotation of tourism projects and industry, but also use tourism to spread civilization and express cultural confidence. In April 2019, the Nanjing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism was established, the first time culture and tourism were integrated at the government management level. Under the national integration of culture and tourism, the Nanjing City Wall also strives to combine “poetry” and “travel”, seek interaction and cooperation with relevant tourism agencies in the city, and explore new ways to promote the 650-year-old Nanjing City Wall.

In recent years, the Nanjing City Wall has launched a series of activities to utilize its heritage more creatively. For instance, it made full use of the internal space formed in history to build ten reading spots for the whole city, such as Taicheng Shuafang at Jiefang Gate and Yuanli Shuxiang at Wuding Gate. Furthermore, various cultural activities such as “70 miles around the city”, “spring festival couplets on city gates”, and “36 Zhang city wall race” (Fig.13) had further realized the “zero distance” interaction between people and the city. (Fig.14).

(Fig.13 City Race) (Fig.14 Making Rubbings)

The City Wall Center has also taken the cultural connotation of the city wall into consideration. In recent years, it has designed and produced 5 series of nearly 300 distinctive cultural and creative products, (Fig.15) and formulated an overall tourism plan that suits the reality of the city wall. These initiatives aim to create a harmonious cultural atmosphere between the city wall and the city, the city wall and its citizens, and among tourists themselves while telling a good story of the Nanjing City Wall. (Fig.16)

(Fig.15 Exhibition Hall for Cultural and Creative Products)

(Fig.16 Enjoying the Cool at City Gate)

While promoting the activation of heritage, the City Wall Center has also stepped up its publicity efforts. Utilizing media publicity platforms at the state, province and city levels, it has formed a three-dimensional publicity mode comprising Internet, television, newspapers and outdoor publicity. Over the past six years, the City Wall Center has had 100 state-level media reports and 400 other traditional media reports annually. In recent years, the Nanjing City Wall has expanded its visual communication by using multi-dimensional images to tell the story of the city wall, aiming at different audiences. (Fig.17).The 100-episode documentary The Story of Chinese City Wall broadcast on the platform of Xinhua News Agency has covered nearly 200 countries and received hundreds of millions of views on the Internet. The 12-episode TV show Nanjing, a City of Mountains and Rivers entered Europe in December 2019 and was broadcast on OKTO TV Station of Austria. In addition, special documentaries such as Zhonghua Gate, Nostalgia and City·Wall have been broadcast on the central media with a great influence, effectively spreading the history and culture of the city wall.

(Fig.17 Peking Opera on City Wall)

5. A Leading City of Joint Application

The application for World Cultural Heritage of the Nanjing City Wall started in 2000. In March, the Nanjing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Relics established a research team for the Feasibility Study on Application for World Cultural Heritage of Nanjing City Wall of Ming Dynasty, marking Nanjing City Wall's 20-year-long journey of application. In 2006 and 2012, Nanjing City Wall was listed on the preparatory list of World Heritage Sites of China twice. In July 2014, with the strong support from the State Administration of Cultural Relics, the China Ming and Qing City Wall Joint Application Office for World Cultural Heritage (hereinafter referred to as the “Joint Application Office”) was set up, and Nanjing was designated as the leading city for the “Joint Application for World Cultural Heritage of City Wall of Ming and Qing Dynasties” project. At present, Nanjing, Xi’an, Xingcheng, Jingzhou, Xiangyang, Linhai, Shouxian, and Fengyang are listed on the preparatory List (Fig.18). Kaifeng, Zhengding, Xuanhua, Changting, Zhaoqing, and Shexian are cities to be added on the list.

(Fig.18 Cities on Preparatory List)

To aid the process of application, the Joint Application Office formulated the Overall Work Plan for Joint Application for World Cultural Heritage of City Wall of Ming and Qing Dynasties in November 2014. Seven work promotion meetings were held successively in Nanjing, Linhai, Jingzhou, Liaoning, Xi’an, and Kaifeng to promote the application simultaneously. In March 2016, the Joint Application Office formally submitted the joint application to the State Administration of Cultural Relics through Jiangsu Provincial Bureau of Cultural Relics.

In 2016, new changes took place in the application rules. Starting from 2018, each contracting state can only apply for one world cultural heritage or natural heritage per year. The application for natural heritage, mixed heritage and transnational projects are encouraged, without any favor to countries with no world heritage items or with few heritage items. These adjusted rules meant that countries with a large number of world heritage items, such as China, are faced with more rigorous challenges with their World Cultural Heritage applications.

At present, China has 61 items on the Preparatory List of World Cultural Heritage in China. The “Maritime Silk Road” project, participated by Guangzhou, Nanjing and other cities, is planned to be jointly applied by China and other countries along the Belt and Road as a key project in recent years. Among them, the Imperial Palace of the Ming Dynasty of Nanjing City Wall is listed as one of the main applicant sites in the project. (Fig.19) As such, the Nanjing City Wall has two candidate sites: the capital city wall and the palace city wall, both an honor and a challenge for the City Wall Center.