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International cooperation sought on archaeology

By WANG KAIHAO | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-04-25 09:24

Enhanced efforts will be made in China to encourage international cooperation in archaeology, and national-level plans for joint research are being drafted, the National Cultural Heritage Administration announced on Friday through a general blueprint centered on archaeological development during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).

According to the blueprint, two to three Chinese archaeological research bases will be set up overseas by 2025, and five to 10"demonstration-level" cross-border projects are expected to be nurtured by then.

"Countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative will be focal points of cooperation on upcoming projects. Chinese research institutions and universities will prioritize neighboring regions and those with key ancient civilizations," the document said.

The origins of humankind, agriculture and ancient civilizations will be the main topics of joint research. Grotto temples-a fundamental Buddhist art form that was introduced to China via the ancient Silk Road during the third century-are also highlighted in the document as an area ripe for academic study, considering their global context and booming interest in China in recent years.

Other international research programs related to oracle bone inscriptions-the earliest-known Chinese characters, dating back 3,300 years-silk fabrics, bronzes, ceramics and jades will also be prioritized.

In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, 46 cross-border archaeological programs involving China were being conducted in more than 20 countries.

The new document said channels for international training and exchange will be further widened, and overseas institutions are encouraged to participate in related research in China.

For example, comprehensive studies exploring the formation of Chinese culture from 5,000 to 10,000 years ago have been key in decoding how a unified Chinese nation was born. These vital studies will benefit from overseas research endeavors.

"With an international outlook, we can have objective, panoramic and authentic views on ancient China and actively participate in international research on the world's civilizations to explore the development of human societies," said Li Qun, director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration.

Silk Road routes linking China and South Asia and studies of Maritime Silk Road routes are among other upcoming research topics.

Other key missions for Chinese archaeologists were also listed in the blueprint.

Underwater archaeology, a relatively new but fast-growing field in China, is one such mission.

More projects will be conducted along the country's coastlines and in the South China Sea, and a list of protection zones for underwater relics will be released.

Artifacts on sunken Chinese ironclad battleships during the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) off Liaoning and Shandong provinces-as well as Changjiangkou No 2 off the coast of Shanghai, which is one of the largest-known ancient wooden shipwrecks in Chinese seas-are listed as highlighted projects.

By 2025, China expects to have more than 10,000 archaeologists, up from about 6,000 currently, as universities and research institutions improve training, according to the blueprint.

Official archaeology reports on 20 to 30 important sites throughout Chinese history will be published. They will include the 5,300-year-old Liangzhu site in Zhejiang province-the ruins of the capital of a state that specialized in jade artwork and a key witness to the dawn of Chinese civilization-and the Old Summer Palace, a former royal resort of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in Beijing that was burned down by invading Anglo-French forces in 1860.

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