Preservation for people — not profit


By Li Anlan
BEIJING, Oct. 14 — Many Chinese cities want to preserve old buildings to win global heritage status and, hence, attract tourist money. But Shanghai is different and Li Anlan explains why.
China has 45 world heritage sites recognized by UNESCO, cultural, natural and “mixed” — only Italy has more, 49 — but none of them is in Shanghai.
While many Chinese localities are obsessed with winning some kind of global heritage status to get tourist dollars, some experts say the “Pearl of the Orient” is not anxious to get UNESCO ranking.
“Shanghai has no interest in applying for the (global) cultural heritage title, because preservation is something the city and its residents need themselves,” says Wu Jiang, vice president of Tongji University and author of the book “A History of Shanghai Architecture 1840-1949.”
“Because for us, it’s not only world heritage, but our own,” he said at a recent forum on heritage preservation and urban development. “It carries our memories, and we need to preserve it as we preserve the heritage of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparent.
“We preserve it not because it makes money, but because it’s part of our memories in history,” he added.
Shanghai’s major concern is preserving inhabited buildings and areas that are of cultural significance and still serve a function, Wu says. “These face critical problems and challenges.”
Heritage has two meanings, he says. “On one hand, it belongs to all mankind, while at the same time it belongs to the city itself. Some heritage sites have more significance for the country, the people, or maybe just a person.”
Competition to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is intense, and officials in many places are lined up to apply for the title, Wu says.
“Preservation is our own mission and it doesn’t make any difference whether there is a title or not,” he says.
There are several common misunderstandings when it comes to protecting heritage in the context of urban development.[db:内容2]