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China’s Costly GDP Growth: 900,000 Historic Villages Disappear in A Decade

China's 900,000 ancient villages had demolished in 10 years. 2014-01-12 05:58 PM EST Last Updated: 2014-01-12 07:05 PM EST
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Former Premier Zhu Rongji's Secretary Li Wei recently released data. It indicated 900,000 old villages representing important points in the history of Chinese civilization had disappeared in 10 years. This is equivalent to more than 250 villages a day. A lot more ancient architecture and cultural heritage has disappeared, due to urbanization and over-development.

Li Wei believes that lack of a reasonable political appraisal system, an unreasonable relationship between authorities and those with responsibilities, and an unhealthy fiscal system are the main causes.

ChinaNews.com reported that Li Wei, Director of the State Council Development Research Center, spoke in an economic forum in Beijing on January 11. Li Wei pointed out that urban development across China has had an over-reliance on land finance. In order to achieve performance, local governments push development of GDP by constructing buildings for show. They demolish the old and build the new to get fast and easy results.

However, demolition and construction have caused irreparable loss, through the destruction of historic heritage, geographical cultures and architecture.

Ye Kuangzheng, culture columnist: “The so-called cultural industry in China today is tied to land and real estate. These are the pillars of Chinese industry. Therefore, land development and acquisition is a must, and to generate enough revenue, old buildings are reconstructed.”

Li Wei said that it is sad to see that with high-rise buildings, a growing amount of ancient architecture was destroyed in a forest of reinforced concrete, and in the growing of GDP. The phenomenon of tearing down old towns to build new towns, and ruining true culture to build fake antiquities, can be seen everywhere.

Ye Kuangzheng: “Construction will bring profit to local officials. Keeping old architecture will generate no profit. Through construction, local governments will be able to push the market prices of local property. This will generate enormous revenue for the local finances.”

Li Wei took the number of old alleys of Beijing as the example. There were a total of 3,250 old alleys, known as hutongs, in the early years when the Communist regime took power. In 2005, there were just 1,320 hutongs. Li Wei said that if there are still 1,000 existing, this would be lucky. Li Wei also stressed that with the growing of new towns, old villages carrying historical records of Chinese culture and civilization have dropped to 2.7 million in 2010, from 3.6 million in 2000. That is, 90,000 old villages have disappeared in 10 years, equivalent to a daily disappearance of 250 villages.

Culture columnist Ye Kuangzheng indicates that another main reason for the destruction of villages and architecture is local governments developing cultural tourism.

Ye Kuangzheng: “It is a common theme in China today, with the so-called economic song in a cultural stage. It is in the name of culture, but rather than protecting traditional culture, it seeks to develop the local economy. On the surface, an old village or alley seems to be appreciated. In fact, these were targeted for the revenue generated after reconstruction, and its associated real estate.”

Ye Kuangzheng took Lijiang of Yunnan as an example. Local authorities exploited land resources in exchange for revenue. With the gimmick of world heritage, local governments undertook large scale reconstruction and development. It led to the permanent disappearance of an ancient and historical city.

Ye Kuangzheng: “Application for world heritage is just a title. With this title and associated propaganda, it gave a reputation for business development and development of tourism. Under the banner of ‘World Heritage Application’, it actually means ongoing destruction of the environment. It means the development of land, construction of real estate, and reconstruction of the old buildings.”

Ye Kuangzheng indicates that local officials across China, instead of engaging in public administration services, have managed local governments like running a business. Rather than cultural heritage, they only care about the maximum profit brought by the land and by tourists. Therefore, as long as GDP continues to decide official appraisals, ruining cultural heritage in China will never stop.

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