Posts Tagged ‘Pingyao’

GHF 2.0

August 29, 2013

The Global Heritage Fund was founded a decade ago to “help preserve and sustain the most significant and endangered heritage sites in the developing world.” Part of the reason I came to California to join, and now run, this organization was because of this mission and the methodology – Preservation By Design® – that Founder Jeff Morgan established to realize the mission.
CP i main iBest
and the chance to see incredible sites like this Tayrona city dating back 1300 years in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.

Jeff trademarked his approach: a focus on careful PLANNING – both conservation planning and site management planning; the latest in scientific CONSERVATION; local and national PARTNERSHIPS; and most importantly, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. What attracted me to the organization back in 2008 was this mission and methodology, because it was in line with my understanding of historic preservation/heritage conservation, an understanding you can see repeated in this blog over the last eight years.
PY Nan st vwS
Pingyao, China. I first visited this site for GHF in 2008.

I was thinking about some of my early blogs back in 2005, especially the one called Heresy and Apostasy. I had, together with one of the big preservation organizations, agreed to a plan that saved some buildings but demolished others. This upset the holy hermits of preservation, who like all ideologues and fundamentalists, brook no blurred lines in their pursuit of purity.
Bas Relief detailD
No blurred lines here – Jayavarman VII bas-relief, Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

Not only did I find that approach unrealistic and unproductive in 2005, I found it that way in 1983 when I was the punk with the halo. That is because my introduction to historic preservation was through the heritage area, a Reagan-era public-private partnership model that paired historic preservation with natural conservation, tourism, and economic development. Sound familiar?
lock 8 houseS
Lock 8 and 1840s locktender’s house, Aux Sable, Illinois

Now of course I screamed and shouted to save buildings, but for over thirty years I have understood preservation/conservation to be an economic strategy. I recognize the distinction between the museum and the everyday to be an artificial distinction. You can raise money to preserve a museum piece, to be sure, but you need to keep raising that money – forever. I soon realized that the majority of preservation happens not by removing objects from our everyday and our economy, but by placing them at the center of our everyday economy. By exploiting their use value.
HMB JailS
cuz it costs lots of money to remove things from society

Within the basic impulse to SAVE something is the impulse to keep it forever from harm, and the tendency to remove it from the economic everyday that threatened it. But this tendency is dead wrong on every level, because hermetic removal is at best a temporary solution. You can no more escape the economic everyday than you can escape the atmosphere. Moreover, if we take a piece of heritage and say, make it a house museum, we are in fact repurposing the site for a new use. One that happens to suck eggs economically, for the most part.
c-m overhang
Wanna lose a million dollars a year? Take a general store and turn it into a house museum.

So Global Heritage Fund was designed to help communities lift themselves out of poverty by conserving their world heritage. Job training in conservation. Community based tourism. Maintenance and enhancement of craft traditions. Building community value and investment by saving its root heritage.
jianziS
jianzi, Pingyao

So, the obvious question is: are you just selling out? Is this also a legacy of thirty years of neoliberal backlash that just needs a robust statist solution where everything valuable stays in the museum where it belongs? No. The reality is this: I can spend millions of dollars restoring a heritage site, but if the local community does not benefit from that site, all of my money is wasted and it will just need to be preserved again ten or twenty years from now.

Worse, if an outside NGO comes in and conserves an architectural or archaeological treasure without involving the local community FROM THE GET-GO, you not only create a dependency on millions of dollars every decade; but you alienate the locals, who might decide to loot the site, since they have lost ownership of it.
chornankap sacerdotisa
chotune museum
This is last year’s discovery of a sacerdotista at Chornankap; and the museum of Chotune/Chornankap in Peru. There used to be looters there. Now the local community supports the archaeological sites and everyone gets their wedding pictures taken in front of the museum. If looters come, the community chases them away.

So, the reality is that this model of investing the community with an initial stake in the project is better for the conservation of the site. And better for the community. In fact, it is the true model of sustainability. We have been misled (I also found a 2005 blog about “greenwashing”) into thinking sustainability is in the DESIGN. No, it is in the design process, which means it is something you PLAN, by insuring that long-term stewards are part of the project from the beginning.
ctyd 4doc-77
Local planners documenting courtyards in Pingyao, 2008

Of course, we still have to raise money, but ideally we can leverage more money and investment with this model. My vision for GHF 2.0 is to take this to the next step: to lead with expertise in conservation science; to plan with community needs and desires first; to leverage multiple partnerships to maximize impact; to identify economically viable models for sustaining sites; and to promote community development as the best way to save heritage. Because it is.
Bas Relief workers on wall

We are celebrating our first ten years with a big Gala here in Silicon Valley on October 2, which you can read about here. In the meantime, visit our website and learn about projects, investigations, future tours and an organization that understands how heritage conservation has always worked. And always will.

Advertisements

Reuse and the Cultural Landscape

January 19, 2013

It has been almost three weeks since I blogged and since I officially became Executive Director of the Global Heritage Fund (GHF), which is NOT an excuse not to blog. But I have been busy. We are developing our slate of projects for the year.
GHF truck copy

The mission of the Global Heritage Fund is to help protect heritage sites in the developing world through community development. This was the vision of Founder Jeff Morgan, who also crafted our Preservation by Design® strategy: equal parts Conservation, Planning, Community Development and Partnerships. He understood “preservation” as a community development strategy, and that attracted me to GHF.

Bas Relief crane work be copy

This strategy is what guides the decisions we are making now about projects. Morgan realized early on that archaeology sites were often not adequately conserved, since archaeologists were focused on excavation and research. Moreover, it was politically risky proposition to be involved in excavation as a foreign NGO: one misstep and you never work again. To this Morgan added architectural conservation, in sites like Banteay Chhmar, a 14th century Khmer temple in Cambodia and Pingyao, a traditional walled Chinese city with some 500 original courtyard houses.

jumble of stones copy

PY walls 53s copy

In addition to archaeology and architecture, this year we proposed two new projects that represent the cutting edge of our field: cultural landscapes. Having started my professional career 29.9 years ago on the U.S.’ first heritage area, this is a development I find very exciting. In both Transylvania (Romania) and Guizhou (China) were are working on World Heritage sites that are collections of minority villages.

Transylvania3

The architectural challenges are similar to Pingyao: how do we modernize and conserve traditional architectural forms? This is no small challenge, but the bigger challenge is how do we preserve the larger cultural landscape? Not simply the buildings, but the public spaces, the agricultural fields, and the traditional folkways, customs and processes that tie it all together?
Transylvania

The Chairman of our Board Dan Thorne recently described the sustainability of traditional agricultural practices as one of the greatest challenges for the heritage conservation field. If we want to visit places that are not simply static, lifeless museums, we need to preserve the life patterns – the social economy – of those places. Thorne opened my eyes to the fact that Transylvania and Guizhou, despite being a world apart, were dealing with the same issues.

PY Nan st vwS copy

This is the challenge I have been grappling with in Weishan, China for a decade: how do you preserve the inhabitation of a landscape: the patterns of farming, cultural expression, urbanism and architectural form that make a particular place unique? I have spoken twice at ICOMOS Conferences about Weishan as a “contingent success” that as avoided both “catastrophic tourist development” and the sort of formulaic modernization that is careless and reckless with a community’s heritage and identity.

Menghua bi detailS

In 2008 I participated in (and blogged about) a Sustainability Conference in Yunnan. I recently me with one of my colleagues from that trip, Christina Heyniger, an adventure travel professional and pioneer who posed the same question in a new way: sustainable stasis.

Do we have a model for a community that is not based on absolute growth, which therefore threatens either physical resources or folkways and traditional economies? Do we have a model for sustainable stasis?” Heyniger asked me. I could not think of one. Heyniger here enunciated a key question for our field, and one that has dogged me for years.

heshui calligrapy copy

Our CFO Bob Stanton told me about heritage villages in Japan that do preserve the traditional crafts and other patterns of life. These become to some extent high-end tourist destinations, but in a larger sense, even that most hopeless of re-use strategies – the museum – needs something to sell in its gift shop to make ends meet. That is why they sell porcelain in Portmerion, neckties at Fallingwater, and whiskey at Mount Vernon. Perhaps there is a balance: tourism is always a piece of place economics. It is only dangerous when it is the only piece or it goes too far.

woodlawn gift shopS

In a real sense, the challenge is to fine-tune our approaches so that we can find new markets, new functions, new value in both elements of a cultural landscape: the tangible and the intangible. In both of the project proposals we are working with a series of other partners who will help design what could be a pathbreaking strategy not just for Europe and China, but for any place that wants to hang onto elements of its past that seem economically obsolete.

Transylvania2

Are they really economically obsolete? That is the first question. GHF is in Silicon Valley, where products are invented not out of need or even desire but from the realms of possibility, question and failure. I have only had a iPhone for two months but I could never have lived without it. We need to bring the Valley’s penchant for innovation to the world heritage cultural landscapes of the developing world. We need to find adaptive re-uses not only for buildings but also for ways of life.

heshui geese 3 copy

Maybe our challenge is to make obsolescence itself obsolete.

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.

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.

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

Pingyao

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: