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FEATURE STORY

China: Restoration of Liu Ancestral Hall Wins UNESCO Heritage Award

September 28, 2016


World Bank Group

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • World Bank-funded Liu Ancestral Hall restoration in China won an Honorable Mention in the 2016 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
  • The historic building fuses Chinese and Western architectural styles and has features related to the culture of the Dong ethnic minority.
  • Meticulous restoration effort brought the historic building back to its former glory.

Beijing, September 2016 – The Liu Ancestral Hall Preservation and Renovation Project in China’s southeast Guizhou Province recently won an Honorable Mention in the 2016 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. The restoration of this historic building was part of the World Bank-funded Guizhou Cultural and Natural Heritage Protection and Development Project.

The Liu Ancestral Hall is located in Sanmentang Village, Tianzhu County in eastern Guizhou. More than 98 percent of the county’s population is Dong and Miao ethnic minorities. Sanmentang Village on the north shore of the Qingshui River is one of the oldest Dong villages in the area.

The Liu Ancestral Hall was built by the Liu family in 1875 during the Qing dynasty, dedicated to their ancestor Liu Wang, a heroic general under the Ming dynasty’s founder and first emperor Zhu Yuanzhang.  It was expanded and renovated over time by later generations and used as a venue to worship ancestors, hold family meetings, and celebrate important occasions.  

The historic building is a fusion of Chinese and Western architectural and decorative styles, due to the Southeast Asian influence. The Western-style facade of the Liu Ancestral Hall consists of an eagle with spread wings atop the main entrance, 44 mysterious Latin letters on the two stone columns, and two wall clocks with hands permanently pointing to the time of 9:02.

Inside, the building has kept the traditional wooden structure from the late Qing dynasty, decorated with elaborate sculptures and paintings, showing a wide range of subjects such as historical figures, mystical animals, landscapes and plants. These represent the highest achievement of decorative art of ancestral halls in this area.

The old building was also witness to the booming timber trade during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. At that time, timber was transported down the Qingshui River, and merchants often parked their boats at the docks near the Sanmengtang Village for a rest. The Liu Ancestral Hall also has features that reflect the traditions and customs of the Dong nationality.

However, time and the weather have taken their toll on the Liu Ancestral Hall.  Environmental factors such as temperature, light and humidity caused deterioration of the architecture, resulting in peeling walls, broken roof tiles, missing parts, and cracks in the masonry and wood structure.  The problem was aggravated by lack of maintenance, as the building has lost its original function since the 1950s. In more recent years, the growing number of tourists also had some disturbing effect on the historic building. 


" In reviving a significant historic building for on-going use by the Dong ethnic group villagers and to attract outside visitors, the project contributes to a larger initiative to protect and promote Guizhou’s diverse cultural and natural heritage. "

Duong Bich Hanh

Chief of Culture Unit and Chair of Jury for Heritage Awards UNESCO Bangkok

Restoration work began in November 2013, under the World Bank-supported Guizhou Cultural and Natural Heritage Protection and Development Project. Pre-restoration site investigation and material analysis was conducted to identify the causes of deterioration and select the appropriate materials and techniques to be used.  The Liu family and local residents in the Sanmentang Village were consulted and involved in the project planning, design and implementation process. The work strictly followed the good practice of “not changing the original status of historical relics” and “authenticity and integrity” for the conservation of cultural heritage.

Conservation work included cleaning and repairing the façade, replacing broken roof tiles and missing parts, restoring the floors, and improving the drainage system to reduce future damage from rainwater.

Meticulous restoration effort over a year brought the 140-year-old Liu Ancestral Hall back to its former glory. Today it is not only a popular tourist attraction, but also an important place for local villagers to gather and celebrate their traditional festivals.

 “The preservation of Liu Ancestral Hall is notable for the application of a rigorous scientific approach. The project successfully carried out non-intrusive investigation of the building fabric, systematic testing of possible solutions and meticulous conservation interventions. In reviving a significant historic building for on-going use by the Dong ethnic group villagers and to attract outside visitors, the project contributes to a larger initiative to protect and promote Guizhou’s diverse cultural and natural heritage,” said Duong Bich Hanh, Chief of Culture Unit and Chair of Jury for Heritage Awards UNESCO Bangkok.

“We are very pleased to hear about the award. It is a recognition of Guizhou Province's efforts to conserve its rich cultural heritage. The World Bank is privileged to support these efforts. The successful preservation of the Liu Ancestral Hall shows that such investment can increase awareness of and respect for cultural heritage and bring economic benefits to local communities through increased tourism,” Said Abhas Jha Kumar, World Bank Practice Manger for  Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice in East Asia and Pacific Region


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