Conserving the Past as a Foundation for the Future: China-World Bank Partnership

December 6, 2011


In the past 18 years, the World Bank has supported 12 cultural heritage-related projects in China with approximately US$1.323 billion in loans.


The rich cultural heritage of China is an essential touchstone of its collective identity. The country’s archaeological sites, historic architecture, expressive arts, cultural landscapes, and ethnic diversity also are treasured around the world. But these cultural assets are under tremendous pressure due to the country’s rapid development, particularly its rapid urbanization.

In the early 1990s, the Government of China began requesting World Bank assistance with incorporating cultural heritage conservation in development projects. Over the past 18 years, this China-World Bank partnership for conservation has resulted in 12 projects using approximately US$1.323 billion in loans, including US$260 million of direct support for heritage conservation.

Projects developed under this collaboration have shown that integrating cultural heritage conservation in development projects can deliver both social and economic benefits to local communities. These benefits are based on conservation that expands economic opportunities and revenues, enhances the quality of life, generates local identity and energy for development, and provides opportunities for competitive regional and international branding.

Key Areas of Work:

  1. Integrating cultural heritage conservation in infrastructure upgrading and urban regeneration to strengthen cities
    City leaders that meet residents’ expectations for rising standards of living and economic opportunities while also conserving unique local heritage can create a strong “sense of place” and positive identity. These assets support energy for development and valuable opportunities for positive international and regional branding. The China-World Bank partnership has worked to strengthen local urban planning skills and integrate heritage conservation with urban infrastructure upgrading and improvements to traditional housing through the use of appropriate design, sensitive material selection and attention to resident needs and preferences.
  2. Supporting best practice in conservation to protect cultural heritage with all of its values and significance
    Many of China’s leaders increasingly are recognizing that it is important to conserve their country’s cultural heritage for all of its historic, social, scientific, and economic value. Similarly, with increasing education, affluence, and leisure time, China’s citizens are taking a growing interest in exploring and conserving their cultural heritage and history. The China-World Bank partnership has focused on supporting conservation institutions and specialists through the development of such tools as provincial cultural heritage strategies and digital archives. Another focus of the partnership’s work has been on more sustainable financial planning, operation and maintenance of heritage sites. 
  3. Strengthening the links between cultural heritage conservation and local economic development
    Cultural tourism is one of the most dynamic links between heritage conservation and economic growth. However, the rapid increase in international and domestic tourism in China, has created the need for more strategic development and protection of heritage sites. To meet these needs, the China-World Bank partnership has focused on improved infrastructure, conservation and management for cultural heritage tourism sites. Sustainability has also been enhanced by supporting local communities’ ability to derive economic benefits from tourism through small business development. In addition, the partnership has focused on adaptive reuse of historic buildings to create venues for new endeavors that lead to increased local economic activity.

Next-Generation Issues and Challenges:

The issues and challenges ahead for the further integration of cultural heritage conservation into sustainable growth and poverty reduction are to:

  • maximize the economic benefits of heritage conservation;
  • leverage traditional knowledge for smart growth and energy conservation;
  • strengthen the integration of cultural heritage conservation and tourism development; and
  • recognize the potential of cultural heritage to contribute to future development of creative industries.