More than buildings

Updated: 2011-12-27 08:19

(China Daily)

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Beijing will strive to become a world-class cultural center by the year 2020.

As the capital, the city has never lacked the capacity to erect symbolic structures, but buildings alone do not make a cultural center.

Yet what is particularly noteworthy about the proposal is the construction projects involved, such as the restoration of the ancient wall towers at the southeastern and southwestern corners of the old outer city wall. Dongcheng district government will also spend 800 million yuan ($126 million), starting next year, on either reconstructing some lost structures or renovating some streets to make them look old. The city will also construct new clusters of theatres or museums.

There is no doubt that the new projects will add to the magnificence of the city's appearance and the new theatres and museums will provide both domestic and international visitors with more opportunities to enjoy exhibitions and shows.

However, in an increasingly pluralistic society, the government will have difficulty deciding what kind of art or performance will inhabit these spaces.

We've also noticed that Beijing will set up an office for the creation of masterpieces of art, launch art contribution awards to honor outstanding artists, and a fund to financially support artistic creations.

Support from the government is certainly not a bad thing and makes a difference to a nation's cultural life. When we look back through history, governments of various types have contributed to the creation of masterpieces.

However, what Beijing municipal government needs to think of before squandering its money on high-profile projects is the fact that the creation of art needs the right environment and the building of culture is a long process of accumulation.

Having been the capital of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (1271-1911), if the existing cultural heritage can be kept in good shape, the capital city does not lack heritage to support its status as a city of cultural significance. The consolidation and renovation of most traditional courtyards within the city center launched by Beijing municipal government more than a year ago is the right approach in this regard.

Beijing has done a great deal to protect its cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, in the past decades, and if this can be maintained and artists have the incentive to create, cultural prosperity will not be that far away.

(China Daily 12/27/2011 page8)