On 30 January 2005, the World Heritage Centre received a fax-letter from China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), informing the secretariat that the Government of Beijing Municipality attached great importance to the conservation of the Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing. The relevant authorities evaluated their conservation works and decided to redefine the buffer zone of the property. After intensive survey, analysis and research work, organizing public hearings, the authorities have identified a larger area as buffer zone so as to protect the urban historic fabric of Beijing surrounding the World Heritage property. The extended buffer zone is being put into municipal legislation procedure. Once the procedure is completed, the World Heritage Centre and the Committee would be informed.
However, at the time of preparing this working document, the State Party had not submitted to the World Heritage Centre a progress report containing the requested assessment of the remaining traditional architecture in the buffer zone, together with the finalized management plan for the Imperial Palace in Beijing. Furthermore, the World Heritage Centre has not received supplementary information including detailed maps indicating the protective boundary and buffer zone of the property in line with the Committee Decision at its 28th session in July 2004.
Moreover, the World Heritage Centre had been informed that there were some on-going restoration works taking place within the Imperial Palace in Beijing. As there was a planned World Heritage Centre / ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission to Lhasa (3-9 May 2005) which passed through Beijing, the Director of the World Heritage Centre suggested to the Chinese authorities that the mission might also undertake a field visit to the property, clarifying the situation and report on the state of conservation of the Imperial Palace in Beijing to the Committee at its 29th session.
The visit to the property by the Joint World Heritage Centre/ICOMOS mission took place on 8 May 2005.
The Deputy Director-General of the Management Authority of the Palace Museum received the mission team and organized a debriefing on the current status of the restoration projects. Relevant project documents were also provided.
According to the principles of the Conservation Master Plan (in Chinese) of the Imperial Palace Museum 2003-2020, the restoration works at the property have been divided into four major stages: from 2003 to 2005; from 2006 to 2008; from 2009 to 2014 and from 2015 to 2020. According to a map showing the phased restoration works, those along the main axis, including main gates and palaces, will be finished by 2008, presumably in time for the Beijing Olympic Games. However, the principles of the Conservation Master Plan did not stipulate the details of the restoration treatments.
According to the Deputy Director-General of the Management Authority, the main purpose of the current on-going restoration work is to restore the glazed roof tiles, as 60% of all the roof tiling is damaged and causes leaking. These damaged roof tiles are being re-glazed and put back on the roof, or replaced by new ones. At the same time, damaged wood structures and paintings are checked and restored, as necessary.
Although the nature of the intervention is not extensive, it has resulted in considerable change as regards visual appearance, due to the newly re-glazed, clear and slightly monotonous yellow roof tiles dominating the skyline within the property.
Also, according to the Deputy Director-General of the Management Authority, there is a plan to construct a one-storey building within a courtyard of the Imperial Palace, to display the cultural relic’s collection of the property.
The mission team was informed that there are also some major restoration works being, or to be, carried out at the World Heritage properties in Beijing, i.e. the Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing, and the Temple of Heaven: an Imperial Sacrificial Altar in Beijing.
The mission team informed the Site Management Authority and Chinese colleagues from SACH that, according to the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention (February 2005), States Parties should inform the World Heritage Committee, through the World Heritage Centre, of their intention to undertake major restoration or new construction which may affect the outstanding universal value of the property. In this case, such notice has not yet been given to the World Heritage Committee. The responsible persons assured the mission team that the Chinese authorities would provide the World Heritage Centre with the relevant project documents as soon as possible.