Posts Tagged ‘Han Li’

Leading with Expertise

April 17, 2014

In approaching the second decade of the Global Heritage Fund, I have spoken of “Leading With Expertise”. This means going into a heritage sites in a developing region not with a massive restoration plan but with the best minds in modern conservation. This allows you to determine the best plan from both a conservation and community point of view, by determining precisely what the problems are and how best to approach them. It means resources are used more wisely, and by bringing in the best conservation experts we can leverage more partners, spreading the cost burden across many international, national and local entitites.
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The Sun Temple in Weishan, last week.

What it looked like in 2006 when my SAIC class documented it

This is what we did in the past week’s mission to Weishan, Yunnan, China. Readers of this blog will recognize the Southern Silk Road city where I have worked over the last eleven years.

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The North Gate, 1390

Weishan was the home of Zhi Ni Ni who founded the Nanzhao Empire in 7th century AD.
Weishan Heritage Valley includes Weishan town with national landmark North Gate, which dates back to 1390, and several Ming era temples and courtyards, the Dong Lian Hua Muslim village national landmark, the Weibaoshan temple mountain with the national landmark Chang Chuen temple, and 22 other Taoist and Buddhist sites.
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Wen Chung Palace pavilion, Weibaoshan

Most recently, GHF brought international conservation expertise to Weishan to develop recommendations for preserving the Yi people mural “Dancing Under The Pine Trees” at the Wen Chung temple on the sacred mountain Weibaoshan. Painted in 1759, the mural is the symbol of the Yi people of Weishan and documents their cultural traditions, but is threatened by moisture, structural weakness, and environmental factors.
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Karena Morton with GHF Project Director Han Li

Karena Morton, an international mural conservator who works for the National Museum of Ireland, spent three days meticulously documenting and analyzing the issues affecting the mural, which include its position on a pavilion situated in a pool in the innermost temple courtyard.
Weibao WC mural team

By “leading with expertise,” GHF is helping Weishan make the right conservation decision for this cultural icon, insuring that local officials spend their money wisely.
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Our work in Guizhou is also emblematic of “leading with expertise” because the challenge here, as elsewhere in China, is not the infusion of funds but the organization of the effort and GHF’s own Han Li, China Project Director since 2008, is the organizational nexus of the combined efforts of UNESCO, the Guizhou Cultural Ministry, Peking and Tongi Universities, and the Chinese NGO You Cheng, which works to conserve intangible heritage.
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这是 典型 的 贵州 村庄

As Han said in a recent program on Chinese television, the goal in Guizhou with villages like Dali Dong is not to make them tourist sites, but to add tourism while buttressing the basic economic vitality of the village within its traditional built and natural environment.
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Dali Dong village, Guizhou

Han Li’s expertise has led the Provincial Department of Culture to place her at the center of the project, leveraging the resources of Global Heritage Fund tenfold, with contributions by Peking University and UNESCO as well. Our impact is not defined by the size of our investment, but by the expertise of our people, who have assembled broad partnerships to achieve a common goal, conserving a traditional village, its agricultural landscape and ways of life.
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DD lane overhangs

That is a tall order, but another expert, Dr. Du Xiaofan of UNESCO’s Beijing office, is pioneering the cultural landscape model in China. The goal is to promote community equality and involvement – as the Burra Charter calls for – rather than bring in tons of outside funding. Tourism can supplement the local economy, but must not replace it – for if the local culture is lost, there will be no reason to visit.
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Global Heritage Fund also brought Gerald Adelmann, director of Openlands Project and Board member of the Center for US-China Arts Exchange at Columbia University, to Guizhou to see the project at Dali Dong village. I have worked with Jerry for three decades, since he pioneered the combination of cultural and natural conservation with the first heritage area in the United States. Jerry brings a wealth of experience to the challenge of preserving traditional villages, not just their architecture but their agricultural lands, their crafts, and their patterns of life. This is the greatest challenge of the 21t century, one GHF is tackling from Transylvania to Timbuktu.

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Jerry Adelmann, Karena Morton and Han Li at Yi people mural, Wen Chung Palace, Weibaoshan.

As a rapidly developing country, China has arguably emerged from developing status and does not present the same economic challenges as other GHF sites. But their need for expertise is clear and explicit, from the overreliance on tourism that threatened to destroy the city of Lijiang (GHF’s first project in China) to the current cultural landscape challenge in Guizhou.

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Traditional covered bridge in Dali Dong village

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Han Li leading partnership discussion in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

Dr. Wang Hongguang told me that international expertise is needed because research in cultural heritage issues is not yet advanced enough in China. Thus, targeted model projects and the expertise brought by GHF through people like Han Li, Karena Morton and Jerry Adelmann can easily leverage ten times the investment. More importantly, this expertise means that China will have examples of the right way to approach key cultural sites, and will in the future be able to replicate and even export these models.
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Couple at landmark courtyard house in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

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Pingyao 2011

June 23, 2011

My Pingyao visit for Global Heritage Fund was excellent, thanks to the extremely talented Han Li, who runs the China program for GHF, Board member Firth Griffith (and family!) and consultant Will Shaw. There has been significant progress in our work in Pingyao, the most notable example of which is the restoration of 12 Mijia Xiang, a courtyard that is now home to GHF offices and a community auditorium.

Every Friday this room hosts a presentation on local Pingyao culture, including the local dialect, which like many indigenous cultural expressions, is in danger of being lost. The building thus preserves both tangible and intangible cultural heritage, making it a model of contemporary heritage conservation. 12 Mijie Xiang had been converted to a school at one point, and Han has preserved a section of the schoolyard mural to capture that history as a palimpsest.

The restoration removed an intrusive modern 2-story cement structure and replaced it with a yaodong, the traditional parabolic arched vault structure that serves as the innermost courtyard structure, providing natural heating and cooling. The yaodong was well documented and thus follows appropriate standards for reconstruction of missing elements, but the ease with which it could be achieved is testament to the survival of these construction techniques within the Pingyao community.

In addition to this physical conservation project, GHF has partnered with Tongji University, which completed a very detailed conservation plan for the city, that incorporates not only conservation of important buildings and streetscapes but also deals with the essential issues of waste and water management, transportation and other elements essential to the success of heritage conservation as a development modality. Preserving historic buildings is not a challenge to development: it is a kind of development, and it is inherently a more sustainable development model because it incorporates those aspects of a community’s history which the community has determined are central to its identity.

That is not to say that Pingyao does not have challenges. It was full of domestic tourists during my visit, as well as a fair amount of international tourists, although the infrastructure is like Dali, sort of designed for a backpacker tourist and lacking some of the niceties that even such touristic sites as Lijiang have procured, like ATMs.

Pingyao is actually exquisitely poised to take advantage of new tourism: it lies halfway between Beijing and Xi’an, popular sites that my Art Institute tours always include. Moreover, a new high-speed rail line is opening up, so it will only be a couple hours from either city. The city boasts several good temples, and the Shuanglin Temple 6km out of town has some of the best surviving sculpture – dating back to Ming and earlier – of any temple in China.

gotta love the thousand-armed Guanyin

The wall itself is fantastic, circumscribing the entire old town with dozens of gate houses and six major gates. Pingyao had a wall dating back more than two thousand years, although the current one is largely Ming, but it has another heritage that offers a unique way to combine the past and the future into a development scheme. Pingyao was the center of the financial industry in China beginning in the early 19th century as local merchants, tired of the hassle of lugging tons of precious metals from place to place in their commercial networks, developed a draft transfer system that allowed their distant offices to secure funds without worrying about banditry and other losses. In a sense, it is the foundation of banking, and it would be great if some of China’s great banks saw the opportunity to restore some buildings and recapture their history here. You can visit the Rishengchang museum, one of the bigger houses. Here are some pictures of it from my visit three years ago.

I also toured the next physical conservation project GHF has planned, also with the assistance of Tongji, which provided incredibly detailed research on the history, current occupants, ownership, condition and historic significance of Fanjia Jie, a street where the extended Fan clan lived in a series of courtyard houses. Two houses, which have survived as Class I historic buildings, are to be rehabilitated for the families which live there. The larger plan envisions restoring the entire street. But it won’t be a museum, because that ISN’T what preservation and conservation is about. It will be a living place that will be attractive to tourists because it is authentic, because it is historic and because it is contemporary. Here is one of the courtyards we are going to restore, and then some views of the street and architectural details.

The plan also includes new green space and a community crafts center. Pingyao is known for elaborate paper cutting known as jianzi and GHF has also done wood block printing workshops, along with building conservation workshops for the locals. In fact, the plan reminds me of our brief in Lima, Peru (see last five blogs) to incorporate gardens (the productive type) into courtyard houses there. Hopefully the project will inspire others (like banks) to rehabilitate other portions of the city in a similar way, using the best 21st century heritage conservation planning, which is not limited to tangible heritage and is not about the past, but the future. In fact, the motto above 12 Mijie Xiang is Yi Li Ming, a merchants motto which signifies that business and profit must be done for the greater good. That is a definition of sustainable development: development that provides equally for current and future generations in economic, social and environmental terms. It is a great model for conservation in China.


July 18, 2008

The Global Heritage Fund invited me to Pingyao as a new member of their Senior Advisory Board, so I was able to tag the trip on the back end of my work with the US China Arts Exchange Yunnan Sustainability Conference in Dali. All it required was a long layover in Beijing (not that bad, found a cool spot with an outlet and edited my book) and then a flight to Taiyuan, and then an hour ride with Han and Han to the loveliest hotel – a traditional Chinese courtyard house outfitted with all of the latest luxuries. I experienced what I like to call “The Dingle Effect” which is the arrival at a lovely, welcoming hotel after a long and arduous journey – it happened to Felicity and I in 1997 when we arrived in Dingle and it happened again in Pingyao.

Pingyao was a place I always wanted to see – the only Chinese city with a completely intact city wall hundreds of years old, running for more than 2.5 km around the historic town, which features over 3000 courtyard houses and a number of excellent temples. By contrast, our lovely Weishan in Yunnan – which lost most of its wall – has perhaps 100 original courtyard houses. Han Li is the new China project director for Global Heritage Fund, and I got the chance to see her EXCELLENT work at organizing a bunch of planning and architecture professionals to do a survey of courtyard houses there. Having done a similar project in Weishan in 2006, I was duly impressed with GHF’s careful and intelligent planning process under Han’s leadership.

Han was very generous showing me the project and also showing me the town. We got a special tour of the Shuanglin Temple, 6 km outside of the walls, which has the most amazing collections of THOUSANDS of sculptural pieces in multiple temples. How these things survived the Cultural Revolution is amazing – apparently the local Party Secretary told officials the temples were being used as granaries.

The current Party Secretary took us on a tour, and it was well nigh overwhelming, even during a month in which I saw the terra cotta army at Xian, the adjacent Hanyangling figures, the Buddhist murals at Baisha in Yunnan and the Shanghai museum. Architectural elements and naturalistic clouds formed the backdrop for sculptural groups that filled the interior of the temples in insistent undulations of exuberance and minutiae…

Not only that, but Pingyao has an amazing collection of reclaimed sculpture in its Taoist temple- from Taoist immortals to ancient Tang stelae. It is a bit of a jumble, but I truly felt I had stumbled into the best collection of sculpture in China…

Not to mention architecture – the duogong at the Gingxu temple I just mentioned were particularly exciting – evidencing the earlier Song influence much more than typical Qing rigidity and formalism…

And all of this was ON TOP OF the things Pingyao is known for: namely, its wall, its courtyard houses, and its draft banks that basically created a national banking system in the 19th century.

So, many thanks to GHF and Han Li and Jasmin Arneja (and other Han and Mr. Ji!) for their hospitality. It was a quick but very impressive visit and being located basically halfway between Beijing and Xi’an, a must for every traveler interested in architecture and sculpture. Final image (for now) Han and I on the wall near the east gate: