“”These creative masterpieces symbolize a distinctive architectural achievement. —Guozhen Zheng, Fujian Province Bureau of Culture
PHOTO COURTESY OF FUJIAN BUREAU OF CULTURE
China certainly knows how to make a statement with works of jaw-dropping modern architecture and engineering. Just look at the Bird’s Nest, the stunning
latticed steel stadium built for the 2008 Olympics.
But the country is also home to magnificent,
centuries-old buildings, including the Fujian Tulou
in China’s remote mountains. Still in use today, the
earthen buildings originally served as homes, schools,
places of worship and protective shelters to entire
clans. Several stories high, they’re built around a
central open courtyard with only one entrance and
windows to the outside only above the first floor.
“Every building functions as a small society,”
says Guozhen Zheng, heritage secretary of Fujian
Province’s Bureau of Culture.
Restoration of the sites is a balancing act. Smaller
repair projects are typically done using traditional
materials and methods, but some of the techniques
and skills have been lost over time, he says. And modern inhabitants require modern amenities. Drinking
water has been piped into the homes and there are
plans to provide access to TVs and telephones.
In September, the Fujian government also
launched a modern marketing campaign aimed at
drawing more attention—and funds—to the project.
Yet questions nag the efforts.
“Mass tourism, especially in China with 1.6 billion people, can rapidly destroy the sacredness of
historic sites, corrupting authenticity with overcommercialization,” Jeff Morgan, executive director
of the Global Heritage Fund, wrote in August on
huffingtonpost.com. The projects must integrate
“modernization and rapid growth, while keeping
key heritage values—authenticity, integrity and
living culture—strong and vibrant.”