Lijiang

Lijiang Ancient Town, one of the few remaining authentic ancient towns in China, was recognized as being of outstanding universal value in 1997 when it was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Where We Work

Snow-capped mountain vistas, ancient architecture and streetscapes, canals and waterways, and the people and their distinct culture give Lijiang its universal value to mankind.  Its architectural style blends the traditions of the Naxi people – the town’s main ethnic group – with those of the Tibetan, Bai and Han peoples.

History

In the heart of Northern Yunnan province in southwest China, near the borders of Burma and Tibet, is one of the last surviving ancient towns in China.  The Old Town of Lijiang is prominent along the Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road, also known as the “Silk Road” of Southwest China, that connects Tibet to Yunnan and Sichuan.  Lijiang Ancient Town has survived intact for more than 1,000 years with over 4,000 native families living within its Core and Protected Areas. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, Lijiang’s Naxi people still preserve much of their native Dongba culture and deep linkage to nature.

Threats

Despite being one of the few remaining authentic ancient towns in China, Lijiang has suffered badly from neglect and uncontrolled development that threatened to destroy the character that led to it being designated a World Heritage Site.  Buffeted by natural disasters, unplanned construction, mass tourism, and the exodus of native Naxi families from the ancient town, the Old Town of Lijiang needed to undertake a systematic process of planning and model conservation, while maintaining its historical integrity.

Lijiang is the most popular tourist destination in China and will most likely remain one of the top 3 or 5 tourist destinations for Chinese travelers.  The Ancient town is impacted heavily by it 5 million visitors per year.  New commercial development pressures, the deterioration of historic buildings and inappropriate modern buildings all threaten the authenticity of the city and create a loss of traditional heritage.

A massive influx of immigrants, along with exploding per capita income growth, has come with the rapid growth of tourism. Lijiang County’s population has grown from 200,000 people in 1990 to over 600,000 (3x) in 2007, while the native Naxi population has remained stable at 180,000 local Naxi during the same period. Local Naxi people have seen their per capita income increase tenfold in the past 10 years from $580 per annum to over $6,000 per annum while renting their homes and shops to immigrants coming in to leverage the increased tourism.  According to statistics, from 1997 to 2007, old town’s visitor number grew from 1,733,200 tourist arrivals to 4,600,900 arrivals while tourism revenue increased from 17.45 billion Yuan to 46.29 billion Yuan.

What We Do

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Lijiang Ancient Town has been affected by natural disasters and by an unprecedented onslaught of mass tourism. In partnership with Lijiang Ancient Town Management Committee, UNESCO World Heritage Centre Asia Pacific and Shanghai TongJi University’s Urban Planning and Design Institute, GHF has provided a new vision through Lijiang’s first Master Conservation and Site Management Plan and an innovative Preservation Incentive Fund to provide subsidies for low-income households to help retain the native Naxi families that make this living ancient town so priceless.

Planning

GHF co-sponsored the surveys, architectural reviews, mapping, analysis and urban design needed to complete Lijiang’s first, comprehensive Master Conservation Plan (MCP), comprised of three integrated conservation and management plans for the Ancient Town: (a) Master Protection Plan; (b) Management Plan; and (c) Heritage and Commercial Management Plan. The Master Conservation Plan has now been approved and implemented by the government.  The Plan covers protection of the built heritage, living culture and history of Lijiang Ancient Town. It reflects the historic and cultural essence of the city in accordance with the UNESCO World Heritage standard.

The Plan reinforces a sustainable development strategy of the city and developed the practical value of the historic and cultural environment.  It also focused on the improvement of the living quality and environment quality, while taking full advantage of human resources, developing culture and the tourism industry to realize the social, economic and environmental positive effects, while minimizing negative impacts.  The contents of the Plan include the peripheral water systems and pay equal attention to the protection of the tangible and intangible heritages.

During 2007, the GHF-sponsored Lijiang Ancient Town Master Conservation Plan (MCP) was approved by the government, and Lijiang received the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award of Merit recognizing the successful conservation of 174 traditional houses for taking “a significant step forward in public-private efforts to safeguard vernacular heritage.  The partnership between the residents, management authorities, external conservation experts and donors allows for a broad-based and participatory conservation approach within the framework of the overall World Heritage site conservation management plan.”

During 2007, the GHF-sponsored Lijiang Ancient Town Master Conservation Plan (MCP) was approved by the government, and Lijiang received the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award of Merit recognizing the successful conservation of 174 traditional houses for taking “a significant step forward in public-private efforts to safeguard vernacular heritage.  The partnership between the residents, management authorities, external conservation experts and donors allows for a broad-based and participatory conservation approach within the framework of the overall World Heritage site conservation management plan.”

Conservation Science

GHF helped establish the public and privately funded, Lijiang Conservation Trust. The Trust provided scientific conservation and planning tools and a subsidy incentive program for the authentic restoration of historic ancient Naxi homes.

Over the course of this project, 174 traditional Naxi home exteriors were authentically restored and over 300 modern concrete buildings were removed, while four new “gateways” with integrated parks, community spaces, housing and commercial districts were developed to reduce congestion and the impacts of mass tourism. Historic Preservation Guidelines have also been produced for the local communities and builders, establishing a scientific planning and urban design process with new strict regulations on construction, building codes, signage, and architectural restoration. This resulted in new levels of community and stakeholder involvement, and enhanced protection and joint planning to manage all aspects of urban growth, conservation and future development in the Core and Protected Areas.

Historic preservation guidebooks for local communities and contractors were developed, the “Conservation and Restoration Manual of Traditional Houses in Lijiang,” to ensure continued local capacity.  The guidebooks describe authentic restoration and preservation methods developed for use by local residents, contractors and commercial builders, vividly and graphically demonstrating conservation and restoration.

A protection plan was developed for the Danyan Old Town Core.  The Protection Plan classifies and categorizes all buildings in the Old Town. The protection of buildings mainly focuses on proper renovation and rational improvements allowing controlled development while maintaining architectural integrity. While maintaining original shape and form, modern techniques are applied to consolidate and enable earthquake resistance.  For the majority dwellings with high historic value, strict principles of renovation and improvement have been applied. Buildings not coordinating with the overall style of the old town have been demolished and new construction with compatible design and materials better coordinating with the overall style of the old town have been made. Over 300,000 square feet of modern buildings have been replaced.

Community Development

The disappearance of local people has led to irreplaceable damage to Lijiang’s authenticity. In order to help protect the authenticity of Lijiang, and to help harmonious development for both social, cultural and economics aspects, in 2002 the Lijiang Ancient Town Management Committee (now the Lijiang Ancient Town Protection and Management Bureau of World Cultural Heritage), signed an agreement with Global Heritage Fund for a private-public sector Lijiang Conservation Trust for the rehabilitation of traditional residences in Lijiang.  A program of restoration grants and improving the historic district’s infrastructure has effectively stopped the exodus of indigenous Naxi people stabilizing at approximately 20,000 Naxi residents in the old town (70% of total population).  GHF also helped to provide training and support to the Lijiang Ancient Town Management Bureau as it grew from 12 persons in 2003 to 140 persons.

In the early 1950s, modern structures of concrete and steel of the Lijiang Machine Tool Factory were built in the region, which were not coordinating with the building styles of the other houses of the old town. There were no water supply and sewage systems for the factory, so all the wastewater was directly let into the nearby canals, which brought negative effects on the old town.  To improve the protection of environmental elements of the old town, new parks and green belts, and restored vegetation have been implemented in accordance with the original landscapes. Large numbers of Cypress trees have been grown for the restoration of vegetation on Sleeping Lion Mountain, Jinhong Mountain and Elephant Mountain.

All former office and governmental buildings have been removed and the traditional buildings have been maintained to restore enlarge open spaces for leisure of visitors and the local residents.  Cultural tourism industry- oriented businesses were 1,361 in 2007, including 1,265 handicrafts and arts stores selling to tourists.  Shuhe ancient town has now 396 cultural businesses, including 350 handicrafts and arts stores.  As of December, 2007, GHF and Lijiang Ancient Town Management Committee completed authentic restoration of 174 ancient residences with an additional 22 currently in-progress. Micro-loans and grants were provided to select low-income and poverty level residents who could not match subsidies to assist them in undertaking the costly preservation and authentic restoration work needed to remain in the Ancient Town.

Partnerships

  • Lijiang Ancient Town Management Committee
  • Shanghai Tongji Urban Planning and Design Institute
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Why It's Important

This cultural treasure has over the years suffered from neglect and the effects of uncontrolled development, spurring GHF to implement a project to arrest these negative impacts and provide the help needed to preserve the town. By the end of the project, nearly 200 ancient residences had been authentically restored, and the project was honored with the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award of Merit.  In the Award of Merit, the UNESCO panel of experts commented that “the partnership between the residents, management authorities, external conservation experts and donors allows for a broad based and participatory conservation approach within the framework of the overall World Heritage site management plan and worthy of being populated to the other world Heritage sites.”

Accomplishments

  • Completed Master Protection Plan, Management Plan, and Heritage & Commerce Plan

GHF was involved in the following successes in Lijiang:

  • Investment of over one billion yuan in conservation and infrastructure
  • Increased size of the Lijiang Conservation Bureau to 140 persons
  • Constructed two new gateway districts to reduce overcrowding
  • Created new buffer zone and environmental coordination areas
  • Stabilized exodus of local ethnic families to the new town
  • Preserved over 400 historic buildings
  • Preserved 251 historic Naxi courtyard residences
  • Removed over 300,000 square meters of modern structures
  • Created new sewage, water, and electrical network underground with coverage over 90 percent of the city

Local Voices

Mrs. Cherry Kwoon
Director, Global NaXi Culture Conservation Society

“Good job! I applaud your success and dedication. Lijiang is unbelievable. Thanks to GHF’s input, it transformed from an obscure small mountain town to world class touring site in 10 years. Still room for improvements, always. But I think they are getting the concepts!”

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