On 30 January 2006, the World Heritage Centre received a comprehensive Report on the Conservation Status of the World Cultural Heritage properties of the Imperial Palace in Beijing, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace and their Buffer Zones from China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage. The Report provides updated information on major progress made in the conservation of the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and other cultural heritage properties in Beijing, which includes:
a) details on the redefinition of the boundary (86 hectares) of the Imperial Palace and buffer zones (1377 hectares), a total area of 1463 hectares, together with maps and detailed requirements for their protection, i.e. regulation on construction control and classification protection adopted in the buffer zone;
b) development and implementation of a Conservation Master Plan for the Imperial Palace in Beijing;
c) status of the major restoration/maintenance projects being carried out at the Imperial Palace, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace;
d) information on the adoption of specific laws and regulations to ensure the protection of buffer zones and historic setting of cultural heritage properties in Beijing, particularly for the Imperial Palace, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace;
e) clarification on the conservation projects in the Imperial Palace, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace.
Attached to the report, the State Party also submitted an assessment of remaining traditional buildings in the buffer zone of the Imperial Palace of Beijing. According to the State Party, while a Conservation Master Plan was adopted for the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties in 2002, the development of conservation master plans for the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace are still under way.
In response to Decision 29 COM 7B.49,a Joint ICOMOS/World Heritage Centre Reactive Monitoring Mission was carried out to the property from 26 to 28 October 2005 to assess the actual impact of the restoration and conservation works on the outstanding universal value of the World Heritage properties in Beijing, namely the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace.
Concerns were expressed from various circles of professionals and the general public, both nationally and internationally, over the quality of the restoration works and their possible negative impact on the authenticity of the properties. In the case of the Imperial Palace in Beijing, no sufficient maintenance was carried out in the past 100 years, since the end of 19th century. With time passing without much intervention, decay and degradation continued to advance until a comprehensive conservation and restoration plan was made in 2002. The plan has been implemented since 2002. According to the outline of the comprehensive plan for the conservation of the Imperial Palace, the first phase took place in 2002-2005, with a total of 21 buildings included as the object of conservation/restoration during that period. The second phase, scheduled from 2006 to 2008, will concern seven buildings including the Taihe Men (Gate of Supreme Harmony) and the Taihe Dian (the Hall of Supreme Harmony). The third phase, scheduled for the period from 2009 to 2020, will cover six Palaces in the East Wing and six Palaces on the West as the last intervention.
In the Summer Palace, a repaving project for the square outside the Dong Gong Men (East Gate), Ren Shou Dian (the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity), and Dong Di (East Dam) was completed in 2001. Between 2003 and 2005, a landscaping project in the north-western part of the garden was carried out, including the removal of unfit buildings, paving and replanting of trees. In 2005, the restoration of the Cloud Dispelling Hall and of the Pagoda of Buddha Fragrance started, to be completed by October 2006.
At the Temple of Heaven, the on-going restoration project includes the correcting of inappropriate restoration carried out in the 1970s, such as the removal of chemical materials, and the restoring of polychromic decorative motifs. The foundation platform, which had been partially reconstructed with concrete, is being reinstated using Chinese traditional black fired bricks.
The joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS Mission noted that the restoration works underway at the Imperial Palace, the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven included the restoration of roofs, the retouching of polychrome painting, and the partial restoration of wooden elements. Although these works did not require the dismantlement of structural members, they were nevertheless very conspicuous and changed considerably the overall appearance of the buildings. The Mission noted that these works are being carried out very rapidly, presumably in order to be completed in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Indeed, the poor quality of previous restoration works and the effect of time required some sort of intervention. However, it was not clear to the Mission on what documentary evidence the on-going restoration works were based, especially as regards the reconstitution of the polychrome painting. Moreover, the Mission observed that the excessively fast pace of the restoration works might affect the quality of the final result. Overall, the concern about the impact of the current works on the authenticity of the World heritage properties could not be completely removed, and further clarification would be needed.
During a debriefing with the Imperial Palace Management Authority, the mission was also informed of a 2004 plan to build an Exhibition Centre at the Shansiyuan (eastern wing of the Imperial Palace), later abandoned by the Chinese authorities. The Imperial Palace Management Authority was considering updating the Conservation Master Plan and proposing a new Exhibition Centre on the western wing of the Palace Museum. The proposed project is located north to the Gate of Western Flower and on the site of the former Qing Imperial Household Department, which was destroyed. According to the Management Authority, this plan is under discussion. Some obtrusive buildings, erected during the 1970s and not compatible with the visual integrity of the Imperial Palace, would also be removed. The mission found that this was appropriate and recommended that, in principle, no new buildings should be planned within the compounds of the Imperial Palace, the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven.
The mission recommended to the responsible Chinese authorities that:
a) Clarification be given on what principles are guiding the current conservation works be provided in writing. ICOMOS is aware for example that the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) in China, in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Australian Heritage Commission, recently completed a document called thePrinciples for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in China. These have been promulgated since late 2000 by ICOMOS China. If these are in use, it would be useful for the State authority to signal this but if another philosophical framework is being used, then that should be stated. The use of a clear, explicitly shared philosophical framework for conservation decision-making will ensure consistency among all projects, ensure avoidance of ad hoc responses to particular site or project conditions and ensure that everyone involved is working in a common direction.
b) A Regional Symposium on the Outstanding Universal Value, Authenticity and Integrity of cultural heritage properties in Asia might be organized in China in 2007 or 2008 to enhance the understanding of the conservation principles deriving from the international charters and conventions developed for conservation of cultural heritage in the region.
c) A collaborative study on the restoration of polychromy and ways to ensure its authenticity within East Asia could be carried out. An Expert Group might be established for this purpose including representatives from eastern Asian countries such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
d) The Conservation Master Plan for the Imperial Palace should be reviewed to integrate elements such as risk preparedness and tourism management. Meanwhile, development of a comprehensive site management plan is urgent for World Heritage properties of the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.