At its 28th session, the Committee expressed concern over the extent of urban development pressures in Suzhou, and the renewal and reconstruction of the historic and traditional urban fabric of the city. In this context, the State Party was requested to review the legal framework and management plan for the protection of cultural heritage properties in Suzhou and to strengthen legal provisions for the protection of the buffer zones of the Classical Gardens of Suzhou and within the historic town. Meanwhile, the Committee encouraged the Chinese authorities to continue their efforts to protect the urban historic fabric of Suzhou surrounding the World Heritage property, by carrying out a thorough survey of the historic buildings and urban landscape of the Old City area. The Chinese authorities were also advised to study, in the future, the possibility of an extension of the World Heritage property of the Classical Gardens of Suzhou to include the entire historic town of Suzhou, together with other historic canal towns, within the same geo-cultural area in the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
The progress report submitted by the State Party to the World Heritage Centre on 30 January 2006 provides information on measures taken to enhance the conservation and presentation of the property, including the results of an initial architectural survey of historic buildings in the Pingjiang area, a typical historic sector not yet included in the World Heritage property.
In response to the Decision 28 COM 15 B. 56, the State Party has taken the following measures to ensure follow-up action since the last report in 2004:
a) Strengthening promotional activities on cultural heritage protection:
The organization of the 28th session of the World Heritage Committee in Suzhou gave its people a better understanding on the importance of cultural heritage protection. The Municipal Government of Suzhou declared 28 June to be “Cultural Heritage Protection Day”, which was also endorsed by local law. Various promotional activities such as meetings, forum, and exhibitions were organized to raise local people’s awareness of cultural heritage protection.
b) Legal protection of old villages and historic buildings
To follow-up on the Committee’s decision, the Suzhou Municipal Government took measures to review the legal framework for the protection of cultural heritage properties in Suzhou, in particular for historic buildings and historic areas. “The Legal Measures on the Protection of Old Villages” and “Protective Regulations of Old Buildings in Suzhou City” were adopted in October 2005. At present, there are twelve local heritage protection laws, regulations and regulatory documents governing the protection of historic areas/townships, the classification of protected buildings and the restoration of old buildings. Suzhou has now established a comprehensive framework for legal protection of cultural heritage properties in the buffer zones of the World Heritage property and within the historic town. However, an updated comprehensive management plan for the protection of cultural heritage properties in Suzhou is needed to ensure long-term conservation and management of the urban fabric and landscape, and fully effective integration of the application of the many legal and regulatory measures described above.
c) Protection of historic setting of heritage property and architectural survey of historic area :
Inspired by the concern expressed by conservation experts and the public concerning the design of the New Suzhou Museum by I.M. Pei, the Management Authority gave thought to the question of how best to scientifically define and protect the setting of the World Heritage property in practical ways. An inventory system for architectural and cultural heritage properties was established and case studies were carried out at the Humble Administrator’s Garden and Pingjiang historic area to ensure protection of their traditional appearances and the overall urban environment. An architectural survey of historic buildings in the Pingjiang historic area has been made and the final publication will be made available by end of 2006. A thorough survey of historic buildings and urban landscape of the Old City area will be carried out at a later stage. Meanwhile, Suzhou city has established a comprehensive system for monitoring, early warning, emergency and disaster-prevention to raise its standard of heritage conservation and management.
d) Possible extension of the World Heritage property :
The Suzhou Municipal Government has attached great importance to the suggestion made by the World Heritage Committee in July 2004 for the possible extension of the World Heritage property of the Classical Gardens of Suzhou to include the entire historic town of Suzhou, together with other historic canal towns in the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang. In this regard, the Site Management Authority decided, following careful study and consultation, to include the Pingjiang historic area, Shantang historic area, Panmen Gates, the historic area around the Humble Administrator’s Garden and other old canal towns of Tongli, Zhouzhuang and Luzhi in Jiangsu Province. The documentation of these cultural heritage sites has been prepared and submitted to China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) for inclusion on the national Tentative List for World Heritage nominations.
ICOMOS strongly supports the interest of the State Party in extending the nomination to include the adjacent and nearby canal towns. This is very much in line with the recommendations of the General Assembly of ICOMOS held in 2005 in Xi’an, China, concerning the importance of maintaining setting. ICOMOS would also stress the importance in carrying out the inventory described above for Pingjiang historic area, of keeping in mind the group or streetscape character of the individual inclusions.
The importance of maintaining these traditional residential districts and historic towns as living towns should also be stressed, balancing the concerns of everyday life of the citizen with validating and maintaining structures of historic and cultural importance. While tourism is an important and powerful component for regional economic enhancement, too much tourism can degrade the regional community. This situation can result in over-use of the historic property, which results eventually in depletion of historical assets. When maintaining the actual life of residents is given priority within a historic and cultural town, visitors inevitably see and appreciate the dignity of the traditional life style interwoven into the regional culture. Tourism promoted in this way guarantees natural and healthy cultural tourism and attraction for the region.
An overall management plan for the property should be prepared, to ensure:
a) that presently planned urban planning controls for height and land use, and design guidelines and regulations for new buildings and renovation of non-traditional architecture will function together to create a harmonious city environment.
b) the fully integrated application of the more than a dozen recent heritage protection laws and regulatory documents, including the “Suzhou Municipal Measures to Protect its Own Villages” (June 2005), and “Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the Law of Cultural Relics of China” (1 October, 2005).
The preparation of a comprehensive and integrated management plan must be understood as a necessary precursor to submitting a new or extended nomination. Finally, more explicit reference should be made to the framework being used for conservation decision-making for individual structures, such as the recently completed “China Principles”, so that the philosophical framework in place may be clearly understood and consistently applied.