Between Development and Heritage: The Activities of the Tianjin University International Research Centre for Chinese Cultural Heritage Conservation
Aoki Nobuo 青木信夫 (Director) and Xu Subin 徐蘇斌 (Deputy-Director) Translated by Duncan Campbell
Fig.1 Overview of the former concessions of Tianjin.
Much international attention is now paid to cultural heritage conservation in China. For its part, China seeks to accord with international standards while at the same time research and educational institutions throughout the world, in keeping with this intense interest in China’s heritage, explore practical opportunities for co-operation. Furthermore, the various issues that are faced by cultural heritage cannot be resolved in anything less than a multidisciplinary approach.
In response, in September 2008 we established a new research and educational institute: the Tianjin University International Research Centre for Chinese Cultural Heritage Conservation. This centre is committed to both internationalisation and cross-disciplinarity. The creation of this centre also accords with the policy of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) to promote the conservation of cultural heritage; we also believe also that our centre will point the way for the development of similar institutions elsewhere in China.
Fig.2 The Garden of Quietude (Jing Yuan 静园), former residence of the dethroned last emperor of the Qing dynasty, Henry Puyi (爱新觉罗溥仪) in the former Japanese Concession, restored 2005-2006.
As the new Centre’s core research activity the authors are promoting ‘An International Strategic Collaboration Project for Cultural Heritage Conservation and Area Activation in the Forefront of a Developing Area: Emergency Urban Conservation Planning and the Formation of a Study Base in Tianjin, the Northern Economic Centre of China’, funded by The Toyota Foundation and under the direction of the Project Leader Aoki Nobuo. Since November 2009, the Centre has initiated an international collaborative project with Université de Paris I, in the belief that such a project will further promote the activities of the Centre.
There is no doubt as to China’s commitment to the conservation of her ancient cultural heritage. But the concept of cultural heritage extends beyond antiquity to include the heritage of the early modern period [1840-1949] as well, a heritage that is both more proximate to our everyday lives and which has left an indelible imprint in our memories. And yet, throughout the Asian region, the cultural heritage that faces the greatest crisis is precisely that of the early modern period. Or, expressed more pointedly, the cultural heritage of the early modern period has already become the target of development.
The approval in 2006 by the State Council for Tianjin to become the Northern Economic Centre implied the development and reconstruction of the entire region, including that of the Economic Development Sector. Construction sites are now to be seen everywhere, engendering a scene of extraordinary prosperity. But at the same time a crisis of enormous proportions stalks the city: the old city quarters, once the traditional symbol of Tianjin, have been swallowed up by development, as if by a flood, and apart from the old concession areas, all other districts of the city have come to resemble each other, thus serving to destroy the particular and individual nature of the city itself.
Development predicated on such blind and mindless destruction can easily result in both the complete eradication of fundamental aspects of a way of life and culture that people have relied upon for many generations and the formation of an unassailable but single-minded sense of values. Development may well produce an air of prosperity, but we are not at all sure how long such prosperity can last. Unless a more pluralistic way of life can also be preserved, then an enormous price will need to be paid. In this respect, sustainable development rooted in the local is an issue that will repay serious consideration.
Bohai Morning News (Bohai zaobao 渤海早报), 3 December 2008, p.17.
In the light of the above considerations, the Centre will undertake the following activities: