When protection and heritage count for nothing

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
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Trip End Dec 31, 2011


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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Friday, November 28, 2008

The story part one:

A. an ancient town in south-west China is noted for architecture, water system, ethnic culture and importance on the tea-horse Southern Silk route is nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Status.


B. it becomes one of the first places in China to get its nomination approved - in 1997 - one year after a huge earthquake

They decided to inscribe this site on the basis of cultural criteria - Lijiang is an exceptional ancient town set in a dramatic landscape which represents the harmonious fusion of different cultural traditions to produce an urban landscape of outstanding quality.

"The Old Town of Lijiang, which is perfectly adapted to the uneven topography of this key commercial and strategic site, has retained a historic townscape of high quality and authenticity. Its architecture is noteworthy for the blending of elements from several cultures that have come together over many centuries. Lijiang also possesses an ancient water-supply system of great complexity and ingenuity that still functions effectively today."


C. UNESCO World Heritage becomes concerned about some inappropriate developments in the old town and works with local government on a plan to remedy this

D. Little is done to keep to the plan; instead more development and destruction continues

E. Lijiang gets more and more tourists - almost 8 million a year - and the Naxi ethnic minority gets pushed out of its town, as tourists invade and business people from other parts of China come in and take over buildings for guesthouses, cafes and bars

F. UNESCO gives a carrot and a stick to Lijiang. It awards a prize for work on preservation of buildings (a later report by an international housing organisation slams the local government for its treatment of local people) and a 'yellow card' warning about inappropriate development. The warning notes "with concern the uncontrolled tourism and other development projects being carried out at the property, which might have a negative impact on its heritage values."

G. UNESCO sends an inspection team to Lijiang in 2008, but find that several weeks before, the government has sent a team to tidy up the town for the inspection. Despite the tidy-up, the UNESCO team find a lot of things they are worried about, including a lack of any master plan, no clear boundaries Lijiang, Shuhe, and Baisha, lack of integrated planning and management, lack of effort to maintain traditional buildings and practices.

F. UNESCO issues their report, somehow noting that the noise of bar street karaoke and discos has stopped, but apart from that (which is clearly not true), the report highlights on-going concerns which haven't been addressed in the site visit or subsequent information. Like the out-migration of Naxi people, and the turning of the place into a cultural theme park.

Message - Lijiang doesn't really care about it's World Heritage status. It is full steam ahead with tourism development.
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