PINGYAO used to be an unknown place, in north China's Shanxi Province, but the year 1997 became a milestone for the tiny town, when it was made a World Heritage site by the Unesco.
Its ticket sales topped five million yuan (RM2.2mil) in 1998, compared with 180,000 yuan (RM82,640) the previous year.
In China, the richest World Heritage place is Lijiang, an ancient town in Yunnan Province, southwest China. In 2000, it earned 1.34bil yuan (RM611mil) from tourism and relevant industries.
The financial results turned out by these World Heritage sites are eye-catching and have encouraged many others to follow suit.
Luoyang City, in north China's Henan Province, used to be reluctant to spend much money to clean up the surroundings of the well-known Longmen Grottoes.
In 1998, the city spent 150mil yuan (RM68mil) to dismantle 180,000 sq m of buildings and plant trees and grass around the grottoes, to make way for a World Heritage certificate.
According to a Unesco rule, one country should not apply for more than one World Heritage site each year.
If so, Unesco would not be able to handle all the applications by China until the next century.
Some critics cast doubt on the purposes of the World Heritage applicants, fearing they care nothing but financial goals.
“No matter what motives these applicants have, the results are good for the protection of these World Heritage sites,” said Prof Lu Zhou of Qinghua University, who is vice chairman of China's association for the protection of ancient relics.
Meanwhile, the process of the application is also helpful for people to recognise the importance of protecting relics, Prof Lu noted.
However, Prof Gao Ning of Beijing University warned that only a small number of applications can be successful.
In this case, local governments should try to learn how to find out a balance between development and the protection of cultural relics. – People's Daily