Rush to rescue cultural relics

HUNDREDS of archaeologists from around China, devoted to the protection of cultural relics in the dam area of the Three Gorges, can feel the clock ticking as the water of the Yangtze River, China’s longest, is ready to fill the partially-built reservoir. 

Right on schedule, the damming of the diversion canal used during phase two of the Three Gorges Hydro-Power Project will be completed tomorrow, prompting the river water to flow into the dam area. 

Cultural relics situated below the 135m water storage line will be submerged by June when the reservoir goes into the first stage of operation. 

A survey conducted by the State Bureau of Cultural Relics in 1994 shows that there are more than 60 relic sites of the Paleolithic Age and paleontological fossils, over 80 Neolithic Age sites, some 100 ancient burial grounds and 470 aristocrat tombs as well as approximately 300 building structures from the imperial Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) in the dam area. 

As China’s largest archaeological rescue programme, the Three Gorges relics salvage works were officially launched in 1995, convening two thirds of the country’s archaeological research institutes, involving more than 1,200 archaeologists, and teachers and students of archaeology. 

The Three Gorges Dam, which is mainly located in Hubei province and southwestern Chongqing, has received a total of 339 million yuan (RM155mil) of state funds for the relic protection. 

Up to now, 87% of the excavation works in the dam area of Hubei province has been completed, whereas the work in Chongqing municipality has been delayed. The present progress can only guarantee the completion of half of the planned relic protection work in Chongqing by the end of next year. 

Wang Fengzhu, director of the Three Gorges Relics Protection Office in Hubei province, said that the amount of archaeological work involved would normally require at least 50 years. However, Chinese archaeologists only have some 10 to 15 years to rescue the relics. Every archaeologist has been toiling night and day at the relic rescue site. 

To date, 450,000 sq metres of excavation has been carried out in the dam area of Chongqing, and 240,000 sq metres in Hubei, which has led to the finding of 4,000 rare, priceless relics. 

Among the protected relics are four “state treasures,” which are a 1,700-year-old temple, the ancient Dachang Town reputed for its well preserved and protected Ming Dynasty-style residential architecture, Baiheliang, or the world’s oldest hydrologic inscriptions, and a stockade ancient village featuring exquisite wooden structures. Chinese experts have worked out specific and proper protection methods for each archaeological treasure. 

The Zhang Fei Temple, originally built in honour of General Zhang Fei during the Three Kingdom period (220-280 AD) on the banks of the Yangtze River, will be displaced and rebuilt brick by brick at a new location 32km west of its existing site. 

The high-cost relic protection project, including the relocation of the entire construction as well as 126 ancient trees, is the largest relic relocation in China.  

The original temple will be disassembled by the end of this year. The ancient Dachang Town will be rescued in a method similar to the Zhang Fei Temple. Its architecture will be rebuilt at a new site 5km away, which will imitate the original geographic features and cultural flavours. 

The rebuilding will begin in February. The protection scheme for the Baiheliang is special and unique. It will be turned into an underwater museum. The 1,600m-long horizontal rock girder with inscriptions dating back 1,200 years will be protected in a container made of concrete and glass at its original site, which will be inundated after the damming. 

Protectionists will make use of two low-water seasons to finish the construction of the museum. An underwater passage will lead tourists to the museum in 2005. 

The Shibao Village, dubbed as the world’s most complex wooden structures, will be protected by a dyke encircling the village. Passenger and cargo wharves will be erected in April next year at the bank of the village. – China Daily 

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