Amidst a rapidly modernizing society, China remains deeply rooted in its illustrious history. Recognizing the importance of preserving its cultural heritage, Beijing recently introduced a draft revision to the Law on Protection of Cultural Relics during the sixth session of the Standing Committee of the 14th National People’s Congress on October 20. This amendment, the first of its kind, seeks to bolster the country’s system for safeguarding cultural relics by aligning it with the current challenges and advancements in the field.
One of the most notable updates in the draft was the emphasis on enhancing the management system for cultural artifacts. An approach best described as “archaeology first, transferring second” is at the core of this proposition. Jia Zhengyu, a renowned cultural relic expert and archaeologist, expressed that this principle is pivotal in safeguarding “immovable cultural relics” and sites with unique characteristics. He further elaborated that archaeological endeavors should take precedence, especially before land usage for purposes like commercial constructions, as such uses can compromise the structural and historical integrity of important sites.
An exciting avenue explored in the draft is the harnessing of digital technology to fortify cultural relic preservation. Spurred by China’s wave of independent innovation, technology integration has led to groundbreaking projects. Examples include the 3D restoration of Dunhuang fresco paintings and the development of a “full-automatic box design” that lets researchers investigate the Sanxingdui site without exposing it to natural elements.
Furthermore, the draft accentuates the role of institutions like museums, memorial halls, and archaeological parks in both preserving and spotlighting the intrinsic value of relics. As noted by museum expert Li Liyang, the realm of digital innovation has extended into social sectors like public education. The digital restoration of relics has emerged as a revolutionary medium for museums to showcase traditional Chinese culture, serving as a bridge between historical artifacts and modern audiences.
The draft also addresses the complex issue of “relic repatriation,” placing significant emphasis on international collaboration. Highlighting China’s commitment to retrieve artifacts wrongfully exported or lost overseas, the revision also demonstrates a reciprocal spirit. In line with this, China has expressed its intention to return foreign relics that were illicitly imported into the nation. Jia highlighted this aspect as a testament to China’s commitment to a global cultural community.
Reflecting on the successful China-Switzerland partnership in the cultural relic domain, a remarkable feat was achieved when five ancient Chinese treasures were repatriated. This accomplishment was realized through a bilateral agreement penned in 2013. Fabienne Baraga from Switzerland’s Federal Office of Culture lauded this endeavor as a shining example of cooperation between nations in combating illicit trafficking of cultural assets.
Despite these fresh amendments, it’s essential to note that China’s dedication to cultural relic protection isn’t new. The original law, introduced in the 1980s, provided clear directives on myriad topics from conserving immovable relics to overseeing archaeological excavations.
As Jia poignantly remarked, “Cultural relics, irrespective of their age or magnitude, remain invaluable treasures for China.” This revised law stands as a testament to China’s unwavering commitment to preserving its rich heritage for future generations.