Posts Tagged ‘Center for US-China Arts Exchange’

Community Planning in Heritage Conservation

October 17, 2011

I recently became Chair of the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund, an organization I have been involved with for almost four years. GHF has patented a Preservation by Design® approach to saving World Heritage in developing countries. The approach follows to some extent the disciplinary boundaries we regularly bridge in teaching historic preservation: Design, Planning, Conservation and History. For GHF’s Preservation by Design®, the four are Planning, Conservation, Community Development and Partnerships. The emphasis on Community Development and Partnerships is key to the modern practice of heritage conservation.

One of the things my international practice in heritage conservation has taught me is that many other nations draw a sharper line between heritage conservation and community development. If conserving historic buildings is seen as a form of development, it is usually only conceived in terms of tourism development. Rarely do you find the understanding we have developed in North America that saving historic buildings is a vital community development and empowerment tool. A case in point is our new Preservation 10X plan of the National Trust for Historic Preservation which makes “Sustainable Communities” the first of four thematic foci for the Trust going forward.

Five years ago I was asked by the State Department to consult with preservationists in Tustan, a fascinating archaeological site in the western Ukraine. My primary (and primal) suggestion was to do a community planning workshop with local residents to determine how they might appreciate the site, how they might benefit from the site, and how the interpretation and potential development of the site could impact the community in a positive way. The suggestion was well received, but it was entirely foreign to the concept of the “heritage conservation” sector.

Even many western European nations define heritage conservation as a distinct sector; distinct from planning, distinct from architecture, distinct from economic development. In our current work in Lima, Peru, we are attempting to introduce urban agriculture to the Cercado, the World Heritage Center of Lima. In so doing, we toured the area with the lead urban agriculture planner and the architect responsible for the Cercado’s historic fabric. It quickly became apparent that these two officials didn’t speak the same “language” when it came to the built environment. Our added value, as outsiders, is to bridge their bureaucratic and cultural boundaries and find new synergies.

Our culture values innovation and cross-boundary thinking, but many societies – I would hazard most societies – take a more defensive approach, safeguarding various disciplines. Even the term “heritage conservation sector” sort of freaked me out at an international conference in Sweden in 2007. Why would the sector define itself – and in this case its financial metrics – in contrast to other sectors? Isn’t that ghettoization? I have always seen the choice to conserve the historic built environment not as a luxury or specialty, but an essential component of community development.

There is a peculiarly American approach to problem-solving that more easily shrugs off cultural norms and categories. It is why we have Silicon Valley (where the GHF is located, perhaps not coincidentally). Perhaps it is the relative thinness of our cultural history; it is certainly an American pride in ‘thinking outside the box.”

At the same time, building conservation as a community development tool dates back to at least the advent of “the new preservation” in the 1960s in terms of historic neighborhoods and the 1970s advent of the National Trust’s Main Street program for commercial districts. In the United States, tax advantages for preservation have been around a full 35 years, so the recognition of this aspect of heritage conservation is deep here.

My most direct experience with Global Heritage Fund’s Preservation by Design® approach has been in Pingyao, which I have written about extensively before here and here. In remote archaeological sites like Chauvin de Huantar in Peru and Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, the opportunities for community development are more limited, but no more so than Tustan. Santiago Giraldo of GHF has worked with the community on the hiking trail that takes you to Ciudad Perdida and hosts a variety of businesses that cater to tourists. The challenge, of course, is to insure that the development of the community is not solely dependent on tourism.

My work in Weishan, China with the Center for US-China Arts Exchange and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is emblematic of this. The goal there is to conserve historic buildings and landscapes and intangible heritage to serve BOTH tourism development AND the local community. So far, as I reported to International ICOMOS conferences in 2007 and 2011, the goal is being met. The North Gate, a 1390 national landmark in the heart of Weishan Old City, is now being used for community events and music as well as serving as a tourist destination. Thus heritage conservation serves both transient and permanent communities.


Ultimately, what we are doing when we preserve buildings is preserve community. One of the great mischiefs of High Modernist architecture and planning (which led to the modern preservation movement) was that it believed you could design a community from scratch and that it would function better than an existing one. One of the great strengths of heritage conservation is that it recognizes that communities can only be sustainable when they preserve and make functional those elements of their heritage which they value.

One day a 27-year old preservation planner pulled his yellow Nova over in Humboldt Park, Chicago, and wrote this down:

“Landmarks serve a community by providing a point of reference, an element of identity, and a source of pride. The community serves landmarks by providing for their protection, interpretation and enhancement. Our built environment is a vital reference for our past, and a foundation for future growth.”

Kid was right.

Life and Death Heritage

January 14, 2011


On July 23, 1986 I attended the funeral procession/cremation of Tjokorda Gde Oka Sukawati, a prince and stepbrother to the last king of Ubud in Bali. I was traveling there (long story) and stumbled across the ceremony, which featured an amazing Pelebon procession in the Balinese Hindu tradition, including a bade, an 11-tiered pagoda tower used to carry the deceased to the cemetery,

A naga banda – basically a dragon vehicle, a lembu, the coffin in the shape of a bull (nandi), a swarm of people.

Now, the funeral tradition there and elsewhere is of course solemn, but it was also touristic. My camera lens caught the tourists lining up, even joining the procession, and local vendors using the occasion to sell t-shirts and the like.

When I lectured on Bali at the Field Museum in 1987 following the trip, I included my perceptions of the tourist side of the place, bolstered by an interview I had done there with Silvio Santosa, a native who had formed the Bina Wisata Foundation to help educate tourists about proper behavior, since they had a tendency to treat the place like Cancun during Spring Break.

Candi Dasa, Bali
What strikes me today is not the intangible heritage represented by the performance of the cremation ceremony or the challenges of keeping tourists from fornicating in ancient temples but the complex interweaving of tourism and heritage sites in general.



Lijiang, Yunnan, China, 2008
I have the good fortune of serving on the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund, which recently released a report “Saving Our Vanishing Heritage” which details not only GHF’s efforts to preserve World Heritage Sites in the developing world, but also the complex layering of tourism, economics and heritage conservation that can save – or destroy – such sites.

Angkor Wat, 3rd gallery, 2001
When I began in this field in the 1980s, heritage tourism was the latest and greatest idea: get people to come see history – built, living, or otherwise – and they will pay for the experience, generating the income sites need to survive. I saw Arthur Frommer speak about how heritage tourists avoid places that don’t preserve their history and how heritage tourists spend more than other tourists. We used lots of oversimplified multipliers in those days to calculate the economic benefits of preserving historic sites for tourism.

Tien An Men, 2009
But in the last decade we have seen the effects of too much tourism. I spoke at an ICOMOS conference on tourism in the Pacific Rim in San Francisco in 2007, and that conference was inspired in part by the overabundance of tourism and the attendant wear-and-tear on historic sites, like the great temples of Angkor in Cambodia, which survived in the jungles for centuries and even the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s but are now beset by tourist numbers which exceed 2 million per year and looting of the more remote sites for the international art market. When I last saw Angkor 10 years ago the number was less than half that.

Angkor Wat 2001
Many of the challenges that Global Heritage Fund addresses as it seeks to build capacity for conservation are external to the heritage tourism economy: war, looting, and even the depredations of nature and climate.

Ta Prohm, Angkor, 2001
But many of the largest challenges are the tourists themselves. Macchu Picchu in Peru has gone from 420,000 visitors in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2009. Petra in Jordan has almost tripled to 900,000 in the last decade. Yet, at the same time, heritage tourism still represents a major economic engine for the developing world. The GHF report notes the dilemma: if the sites are simply exploited, they will be destroyed and cease to draw tourists. Macchu Picchu accounts for 90 percent of Peru’s tourism revenue. Part of the problem is sustainability planning: Peru has many other valuable heritage sites, but these have not been marketed, managed or developed. Planning at Angkor in the 1990s directed development to the outskirts of the site, but lack of controls has placed much private development in more sensitive areas. Moreover, despite the incredible value in heritage sites – GHF estimates $20-30 billion for the top 500 heritage sites – only a fraction of that revenue, $400-500 million, or 2-3 percent, is spent on the sites.

Coba, Mexico, 2006
The best projects work to train local officials, planners, developers and others in sustainable management and development practices. GHF’s project in the walled city of Pingyao, Shaanxi, China, is emblematic, and I had the opportunity to visit that site in 2008.



GHF has also worked to help Lijiang in China, which I cited as a bad example in my 2007 presentation, since the city was stripped of local authentic culture after becoming a world heritage site: the city’s buildings were preserved, but it became an ersatz tourist town: local businesses replaced by tourism shops, homes replaced by hotels. I called this catastrophic tourist development, since it replaces a sustainable and diverse local economy with a dangerously unbalanced economic monoculture.


Lijiang, 2008
Our work in Weishan, Yunnan, China over the last seven years with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Center for US-China Arts Exchange is focused on just this complex intersection: Heritage tourists want an authentic experience, not a commercialized stage set, which is what Lijiang is very like. Weishan has done a great job of preserving the real, everyday businesses along the Southern Silk Road that passes through the great 1390 North Gate and the Drum Tower. You can still see locals shopping for clothes, rice noodles drying on streetside racks, birds and jellies and coffins and shoes for sale, along with some antique shops and food stalls. The final chapter on Weishan is not written, but in 2007 and 2010 it is a model of sustainable development.


Weishan, 2009

Weishan noodle shop, 2006. Photo copyright Felicity Rich

noodles drying, Weishan 2006. Photo copyright Felicity Rich
Huge challenges remain: The international tourist market that appreciates authenticity is actually dwarfed by a domestic tourist market that is happy to visit the Chinese versions of Branson: artificially constructed sites with artificial histories and happy Happy entertainment. Authenticity is a challenging concept for most tourists, something I recall even when we used to work in Ireland in the Burren, where the great portal dolmen of Poulnabrone was surrounded by little tiny dolmens, built by tourists in acts of pure vandalism, destroying the delicate limestone pavement ecosystem to build little stonehenges that would fool the next tourist into thinking they were seeing a thousands-years-old structure.

Poulnabrone, Burren, Clare, Ireland, 2002
Again, my interest today is not in the misbehaving tourist as much as the economic context: heritage tourism is a boon AND a bust for historic sites and places seeking economic uplift. Heritage conservation is a huge expense AND a huge revenue source for countries at all levels of development. Economic development is a threat AND an opportunity – if done with long-term returns in mind for historic sites worldwide. It is not (I am tempted to say NEVER) an “EITHER OR” proposition but a “BOTH AND” proposition. The advantage the heritage conservationist brings to this challenge is quite simply the long view: we are not about the quick buck or the quick fix. We want to keep BOTH historic sites AND a productive local society for as long as we can.

Cashel, Ireland, 2002

More on Yunnan 2009

July 17, 2009

yunnan rice fields
The rice replanting was in full swing throughout Yunnan when we were there in May and June, and you could watch this millenia-old agricultural ritual as we traveled north from Weishan to visit Jianchuan, to see the famous grottos and also the restored temples in Shaxi town. The Swiss had been involved in the efforts to restore these temples, which have some very excellent early Ming duogong, something you rarely see. Anyway, here are the temples at Shaxi in Jianchuan, Yunnan
shaxi temple7
But you have to see the duogong – see, basically as the Ming became Qing the duogong became less functional and more decorative and they got smaller and more elaborate.
shaxi temple duogong
These are robust duogong, to be sure. One of the challenges in China is that each dynasty – except the Qing (17th-early 20th centuries) – destroyed most of the stuff from the previous dynasty. The Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s was sort of a modern version of the iconoclasm that cycles regularly throughout Chinese history. Thus Foguangsi on Wu Tai shan in Shanxi is one of the oldest temples left in the whole country, dating from the late 9th century and it was just named a World Heritage Site thanks to my friends at the Global Heritage Fund. But for Yunnan, the temples at Shaxi are pretty impressive, as is the restored theatre and central square, sideng.
shaxi stage bldg
The town also has a series of gate, picturesque narrow lanes and a lovely old stone bridge over the river.
shaxi gate
shaxi bridge3
shaxi streeterr
The only GHB in this cultural cocktail is the fact that the lovingly restored town square was so empty, much emptier than the picture of it John Stubbs included in his new world conservation book Time Honored (I especially recommend Chapter 2 to all aspiring preservationists). This is the nagging problem with so much cultural tourism – they decide that tourism is the answer so they throw out the other options. Sideng had maybe two or three open shops and less than four other tourists while we were there. It was more of a stage set than a place.
shaxi sideng view0
Which is too bad, because the temple interpretation was good, including models and detailed panels describing every level of conservation from the region down to the individual monuments. And the museum of the tea-horse route in the theater building was small but worthwhile. Our work in Weishan involves the same horse-tea route caravan, which through history brought tea up from its sweet spot in southern Yunnan to Tibet and points east and west. (I did the English labeling here so there is a possibility of error.)
tea horse routeBLs
In Weishan we saw the restored courtyard used by the planning department which was also a significant site on the tea-horse route.
Tea horse inst ctyd
And we had tea there, which is cool. We also had tea in Dong Lian Hua (East Lotus Village) one of two Muslim towns we visited in the Weishan valley, and one I had seen before in 2007 (in fact they still had a picture of me up on the wall) and which was recently named a landmark. The highlight are three tower houses from which merchants could survey the caravans along the route, stable a large number of horses, and conduct the trade that made the valley.
DLH ctyd2 upper
DLH grp tea2
Like Weishan, Dong Lian Hua is a place where conservation has preserved the best of the past as a service to the people who live there, not simply as a sop to tourists. This is the best way – the only sustainable way – to plan for the future. Because real planning relies not on knowing everything that can happen in the future – that was the great fallacy of modernism in planning and architecture – but on creating enough utility and flexibility that a place or a building will continue to serve people in their full range of motion and time.
incense overal
I said it in my ICOMOS paper two years ago and It bears repeating: Weishan is a model of developing historic resources for tourism without sacrificing the utility those resources have for the local population. Indeed, local use is primary, because tourism comes and goes. I do not promise that Weishan has avoided the temptations of catastrophic tourism, only that they have avoided them so far. The work we do at SAIC, at the Center for US-China Arts Exchange, in Yunnan is focused on this goal.
peach main rd v
Our role is to encourage making historic buildings as useful as they can be for those that live there and those that visit. And I think that describes all of my preservation practice over the last 26 years: we promote people’ better impulses toward their environment and discourage the baser ones, the ones that ignore the future for immediate gain.
Tea horse inst doors
(Above: traditional carved doors at the tea horse institute building, Weishan.)

You see, preservation isn’t about the past at all. It is about the future and how you would like that future to be.

China Again – Yunnan 2009

July 4, 2009

saic at 3 pagodas
There we are, all of us in Dali at the Three Pagodas, which is a classic Chinese preservation site. REALLY significant pagodas – the center one dates from the T’ang Dynasty – about 1200 years ago, and is quite similar to the Xiao Yan Ta (Lesser Wild Goose Pagoda) in Xi’an, which is visible in a post from last year. The flanking two pagodas are only a few hundred years old, but these things have survived the earthquakes that visit Yunnan and they are pilgrimage sites for not just tourists and architecture enthusiasts, but Buddhists as well.
3pag changsheng downe
So, in 2006 they opened a completely rebuilt Changsheng temple, replicating perhaps the temple that was situated behind the 3 pagodas 1200 years ago. They spent a few hundred million dollars, so think Millenium Park or Soldier Field, but unlike government projects in the U.S. they included a thousand or more 10-18 foot high gold religious icons. The place is endless and endlessly amazing, and it is of course not preservation but a recreation – largely conjectural.
3pag changsheng ava1000
There’s your 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) and they have every other boddhisatva you could want as well as more arhats than you can count. It is a real Buddhist place now too, replete with attendant monks, but it is also a big tourist project, which, contrary to what I was saying at ICOMOS two years ago, is considered a bit of a financial letdown since tourism has not responded with the uptick they predicted.
3pag changsheng ava
I have noticed this tendency to create “fake antiques” not only in China and Vietnam but in the Ukraine. It was characteristic of our own preservation practice in the past, and still occurs at certain sites. The idea is straightforward – people want to see the thing – not a ruin, not a partial thing, not whatever the thing evolved into – so you build the thing, whether it exists or not. Whether you know what it looks like or not. This is straight out of P.T. Barnum and Marshall Field – give the punters what they are looking for. What they are willing to pay for.
3pag changsheng burn
Even in the 1980s when I got started in historic preservation, there was a lot of emphasis on heritage tourism. It is still a major part of what we do, and a significant piece of what we are doing in Weishan, the next valley over from Dali. But we have the one thing that preservation holds precious – authenticity. In this country we talk about integrity of physical fabric, but the international community talks about authenticity and that is a better word because it connotes more than simple a curatorial approach to historic fabric. It also allows for a consideration of cultural authenticity. On the one hand, you could say this justifies the “fake antiques” because they are authentic to the living historical culture. One the other hand, those decisions – like at Three Pagodas – seem less driven by local cultural expressions and more by a desire for tourism income. That impulse is not an authentic cultural expression as much as a calculated economic decision.
66 old ladies
In Weishan, where the above image is from, our goal is to maintain authenticity. We discouraged the local government from rebuilding the entire city wall, lost hundreds of years ago. They are rebuilding a portion of it (when they get the money). And we did provide counsel – and funding – for the rebuilding of Dong Yue temple, which has been a very well-done project. They saved as much original fabric as possible and rebuilt only what they knew had been there.
dong yue side fixed
The biggest challenge remains the two-headed demon of cultural tourism. Because as much as fancy graduate school types like me and perhaps you prefer the “authentic,” there are plenty of everyday punters born every minute who want the good story and the good-looking antique whether it is real or not. And those folks may well represent three out of four or even four out of five tourists. There is another site near Dali called Butterfly Spring, which has been in existence for less than a generation but tons of Chinese tourists flock to see the spring where some star-crossed lovers turned into butterflies. It is a lovely place, with all the authenticity – and drawing power – of Dollywood.
DSCF7653
The success of places like Butterfly Spring inspired the investment that gave us Changsheng Temple, and it inspires those of us working in Weishan to urge – as we would say at the National Trust – that “real” places matter to real people. Some would argue that this is an elitist position – why not allow the average punter their fantasy in three dimensions? The problem, of course, is that tourism-driven decisions are economic decisions, and like Goldman-Sachs, they are notoriously short-term decisions whose bubble will burst within a year or three. In Yunnan, there are already examples of tourist sites that went whole hog for recreation and reorganization of the economy for tourism. And then came a change in fashion or taste or a threat like SARS or avian swine flu and it all blew up because all of the eggs had been put into a single, inauthentic basket.
street view
The message for Weishan – and every other place that matters – is that preservation of authenticity works in the long term. It means the place works as a local economy as well as a tourist economy. That it works based on past stories as well as present stories. That it functions and has meaning and value both human and economic for those who live there whether or not anyone visits. It is real planning for the future because it recognizes that the future – like the past – is a very long time, and decisions we make won’t only affect us or our lifetimes.

Dong Yue Temple Four Years Later

July 6, 2008



dong yue0860

Originally uploaded by vincusses

Thanks to Barry Maclean, the restoration of the Dong Yue temple in Weishan, Yunnan province is well underway. In this picture you can actually see the qiuwen screen that we found on site in 2004 when our SAIC students produced measured plans and a re-use plan for the temple site, on the edge of historic Weishan city and just below Weibaoshan, one of the 13 sacred Taoist mountains of China. Kudos to Mr. Li who is directing the restoration. The missing qiuwen screen was replicated, but without the characters in the interstices, a wise move. The decorative plaster on the side walls was restored and/or replicated only as necessary. This is the second excellent restoration in Weishan, the other being the Chang Chun temple on Weibaoshan. Both projects have a steady understated approach, unlike the gaudy over-restoration that one often finds.

I hope that Karin, Natalia, Hans, Stacey, Andrea, Marty, Kim, Chrissie and Marilyn see this – it is very gratifying to see a project move forward after you have worked on it!

More on Weishan later – and then a report on my eye-opening visit to Pingyao with Global Heritage Fund….

Oh – just added – here is Jingjing and our old friend Charlie…

And the side walls with decorative plaster – one rehabbed, one restored – can you tell which?

Sustainability in China

June 29, 2008



dali team08

Originally uploaded by vincusses

A long day around the conference table with copious cups of green tea and hearty discussions about how we are going to try to convince Yunnan officials that their efforts at sustainability in Gaoligongshan National Park and historic Weishan city need work. We spent several days touring the sights, which was fun for me since I had never seen Gaoligongshan, an amazing national park with incredible biodiversity. We also saw the progress in Weishan, where I was VERY gratified to see the restoration on the Dong Yue temple, which our students worked on four years ago.

Here is the team after a week at it: Scott Wayne, Badi’ah, Christina Heyniger, Cheryl Hargrove, me, Jerry Adelmann, Jingjing Gao, Ted Eubanks, Ken Hao, Ted Shear and Floyd Thompson.

We are dealing with challenges – the Chinese have great pressure to develop these sensitive natural areas and the wonderful historic town of Weishan, and little immediate incentive to follow the plans we have developed through the Center for US-China Arts Exchange since 2002. But that is the challenge of sustainability – being able to take the long view and recognize that the quick dollar is the one that kills the resource. Sustainable development is slow and long, and it lasts. But it is always a challenge to convince politicians – in any nation – of that fact.

Rainy Season, Yunnan

August 7, 2007



s wall bestS

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Traffic and pouring rain made the half hour trip through Kunming take over an hour. By the time the taxi got to the airport it was less than an hour before our flight and the driver had to navigate a flooded parking lot with water bubbling up from the sewers. Two days earlier we were caught on a mountain pass between Weishan and Dali, trapped behind a van stuck in two feet of red mud. Muslim women pushed the van out but by then there were a hundred cars and trucks lined up and we were an hour late to Dali. Welcome to the rainy season in Yunnan, the high-elevation tropical southwest of China. This is part of my job.

We made the plane and there is a woman on a stretcher right behind me where three rows of seats used to be. Last night we sat in an ex-pat bar in Kunming drinking Laotian beer with Angel, our Burmese-Chinese interpreter and her friends. It had been a day of losing things – first Jonathan left his camera in a tuk-tuk in Weishan, which the honest driver brought back, then he left his backpack in a Dali restaurant and also got it back. In the morning Andrew couldn’t find his wedding band (he found it) and in the evening Jerry misplaced an umbrella (also found). Normal travel stuff, lost items and rain delays.

I have a scratch on my arm from the barbed wire atop the one remnant of the Weishan City wall, on the military base on the south side of town. I stumbled into it as I tried to keep the sentry gate out of the photographs. How many decades ago was that last tetanus shot? Heck, if I was going to worry about that I would worry about eating cold food like Ken warns against, but it tastes good and I am a little brash that way. I was drinking tap water in India in the mid-1980s. Enough chili pepper and you are fine. I don’t think the reason people get sick in foreign countries can be entirely explained by biology – it is a mental adjustment too.

The afternoon after the barbed wire we had tea with community leaders in a nearby Muslim village and visited four 1920s watchtowers and courtyard houses in the community. The towers gave superb views of the exceptionally well-preserved village, its mosques indistinguishable from traditional Chinese pagodas. The road there was lined with stone carvers crafting tombs – elegant aedicules of yellow sandstone flanked by fu lions.

Beef noodles for breakfast, four different kinds of mushrooms at every meal, lashings of green tea, official meals with copious baijiu toasts and the constant putt-putt of tuk-tuks. I like my job. I like China too – it is an appropriate successor to the U.S. – sort of oversized and clumsy, not refined like Japan but massive, driven and infinitely more skilled at capitalism than Europe and America. Kartik and Jonathan are on their first trip to China and especially for Jonathan its exoticism is striking. I remember how I was overwhelmed four years ago on my first trip, and I see it with my students each time we come. For me it is familiar, even comfortable, especially at mealtimes.

In most ways Weishan is like every other town in the world, a little of everything, but its historic core is unique, especially in China, which is moving so fast that little history will survive the next few years. Weishan is special – so far.

I have seen dramatic changes in 4 years. The old bird and flower market in Kunming is being torn down. The place is cleaner and everything runs pretty smoothly despite the rain-induced traffic jams on mountain passes and city streets. Yesterday at lunch I toasted our hosts with “China is the future and it is encouraging to see that in some places that future will happen in harmony with nature and history.”

In Weishan we reviewed progress on the temple restoration our students helped plan in 2004, now being funded by a leading Chicagoan. We were also there with three architects to respond to a preservation plan for the historic town, birthplace of the Nanzhao empire (700 AD) and center of Yi culture. The plan was authored by Tongji University, the MIT of China, and it was detailed in its surtvey of historic structures but predictable in its expansion plans and troubling in its advocacy of rebuilding long-lost landmarks, like the city walls and gates. Only the north gate survives, a regal 1390 structure that is the second largest in China after Tien An Men in Beijing.

Last summer our students documented 16 buildings in town and ultimately contributed 30-odd photos to a Yunnan photo book about Weishan. Faculty member Felicity Rich contributed so many that author Fan Jianhua listed her as a principal photographer. We returned to some of the houses and it struck me that I have had a small part in helping preserve this place – not as big as Ken and Jerry, who rep the Center for US-China Arts Exchange, but still, it is something.

Sunday we had a two hour meeting with the Party Secretary and later another with about 20 other local officials, including the mayor. They agreed that I told them how impressed the ICOMOS audience was with the “Weishan model” in April in San Francisco, a model that accommodates tourism without killing the town, as has happened in Lijiang and Dali and so many other Chinese “tourist” cities, Everyone in Weishan agrees with us – they don’t want to drive the locals out and they don’t want “any fake antiques”. Now we will see what the planners at Tongji want.

That will be a tough meeting, but the meetings, like the place and even the language, are becoming easier the more I do this. A two-hour formal meeting in a provincial government office in southwestern China is just something preservationists do. In the last year I have had similar meetings in Chicago office buildings, wooden lodges in the Carpathian mountains of the Ukraine, and by the shore of Lake Siljan in Sweden. The issues don’t vary: only the venues. Like I said, I like my job.

Postscript: I wrote this on the plane from Kunming to Shanghai last week. The meeting at Tongji turned out much better than expected – our colleagues were impressed that we thought Weishan was worth coming back to again and again, and they agreed to work with us on refining the plan. My brashness extended to toxic Shanghai and my GI tract paid the comeuppance. Four days back and I have a head cold. Nothing a little Pu’er tea can’t cure.


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