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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