In November 2009 our Chairman, Simon Molesworth, attended a conference in Guangyang, China, devastated by an earthquake in 2008. The Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation is seeking to develop capacity for heritage restoration and tourism as a way of rebuilding the communities along the Ancient Shu Road. Sharing experiences in this direct way is an important facet of INTO’s work which we continue to continue and develop.
Cultural routes are high on the agenda of UNESCO and other international organisations. Since 1993, when the pilgrimage Route of Santiago de Compostela was included on the World Heritage List, six further cultural routes have become World Heritage Sites. The cultural routes of China are characterized by their large-scale linear circuit length, body volume, rich content and extensive influence.
The Ancient Shu Road is a very early large-scale cultural route with a longer history than the ancient Roman roads with which we are often more familiar. In China’s history, the Ancient Shu Road is the main transportation network enabling the Northwest and Southwest regions to communicate, the main thoroughfare connecting the political centres of the Han and Tang Dynasties and has the same significance as the ancient Silk Road and the Grand Canal of China.
To support preservation efforts and speed up the pace of cultural heritage protection, partners from Sichuan and the Guangyuan Government along with 12 cities along the route from Chengdu to Xi’an jointly launched their world heritage bid. They also held the the first International Forum on ‘The Preservation and Development of Cultural Routes: Ancient Shu Road’ in November 2009 in the historic city of Guangyuan.
This forum focussed on the preservation of cultural routes and the cultural heritage industries of Sichuan province, with the aim of applying for world heritage site status and thus promoting tourism and reconstruction after the earthquake. Simon Molesworth said:
“Definitions of heritage have changed a lot since the first National Trusts were established at the end of the 19th Century, but the role of these community-based organisations which engage people today by telling the stories of their ancestors has not diminished. I was very proud to have been invited to China this year to share experiences in the development of cultural routes with colleagues in Sichuan Province, recently ravaged by an earthquake. It was so encouraging to see real interest in utilising the rich and diverse cultural heritage of this part of China as a means of stimulating the capacity of local communities to rebuild their lives. Encouragingly, this focus may be the catalyst for the eventual formation of a national heritage foundation with a country-wide focus.”