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    CCTV Report Sparks Outcry Over Heritage Preservation in Gansu

    An investigative report exposed inadequate oversight in preserving Ming and Qing dynasty buildings; local authorities announce probe.

    Authorities in Tianshui, a major city in the northwestern Gansu province, have come under intense public scrutiny following allegations of inadequate oversight in preserving its historical buildings.

    This uproar stems from a recent investigative program aired Saturday on China’s state broadcaster, CCTV. The program shed light on the improper utilization of building complexes built during the Ming and Qing dynasties in Tianshui, an ancient town situated along the Silk Road route.

    Tianshui boasts one of the best-preserved residential courtyard compounds dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties in northwestern China. To preserve the historical buildings, the local government had launched a conservation program targeting the Xiguan area of the ancient town, which includes nearly 30 historical courtyards. 

    Data from the Tianshui municipality shows that the city allocated over 888 million yuan ($123 million) for the initiative between 2015 and 2021.

    However, according to the CCTV report, the culturally preserved buildings — painstakingly restored at considerable expense — have turned into commercial venues catering only to tourist-centric commercial spaces. These now include a variety of businesses like eateries and convenience stores, raising worries about potential irreversible harm and safety issues to the historic buildings.

    Of all the heritage sites preserved, only three are accessible to the public free of charge, according to CCTV.

    A Ming dynasty building featuring traditional Chinese architecture such as a special courtyard and a dark roof has been transformed into a Japanese restaurant, CCTV stated. Japanese-style wooden decks were installed on top of the original foundations. 

    An architect told CCTV that these alterations could cause irreversible damage to the building’s foundations during rainy periods. Rather than swiftly draining away upon hitting the ground, the rainwater splashes against pillars and reaches down to the foundations. This, the expert said, could accelerate the erosion of the wooden structure.

    In several cases, historical buildings were found to have been repurposed for business uses without approval from heritage protection authorites. 

    The lack of oversight has also resulted in the use of flammable materials and haphazard wiring in various historical buildings in the city, violating strict regulations. Since many old Chinese structures are constructed from wood, they are susceptible to fires.

    “It’s purely focused on commercial interests, devoid of cultural heritage, and lacks authenticity,” CCTV quoted a local resident as saying. 

    The CCTV report has sparked public outcry, with a Weibo hashtag on the topic garnering more than 450 million views. 

    In response, the Tianshui government announced Monday that they’ve set up a team to investigate the issue. They also said a fresh safety audit was being conducted in the ancient town to address concerns, and promised to identify all possible risks and provide time frames for fixing them.

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: A worker repairing the foundation of a historical yard in Tianshui, Gansu province, Dec. 22, 2021. Feng Zhijun/CNS/IC)