United Nations

Beyond the Great Wall: China’s lesser-known Unesco world heritage sites

The debate over the future of Unesco following America’s withdrawal provides a timely reminder of the richness and diversity of China’s own history

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 4:28pm

The decision by the United States to leave Unesco in protest at what it described as “anti-Israel” bias followed by China’s decision to withdraw its candidate to lead the global cultural organisation has thrown a spotlight on the group’s operations.

The loss of the US and its funding would be a serious blow to the organisation but despite its size and cultural clout America is only 10th on the list of countries with the most world heritage sites.

This may be a reflection of the fact that it is still a relatively young country.

The two countries that top the list – China and Italy – have more than two thousand years of culture and heritage to draw on.

China withdraws candidate to lead Unesco and backs Egypt after US and Israel quit heritage body

With 52 Unesco world heritage sites – just one fewer than Italy – and a quarter of the globe’s population, China should always have an important part to play in preserving the world’s cultural environment.

Some of China’s 52 world heritage sites are world famous: including Beijing’s Forbidden City, the Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall and the Summer Palace.

Here are some of the other sites:

Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains

The Wudang Mountains in the northwestern part of Hubei hosts a complex of Taoist temples and monasteries associated with the god Xuanwu, who is particularly revered by martial artists.

The palaces and temples which form the nucleus of this group of secular and religious buildings exemplify the later architectural and artistic achievements of China’s Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

Classical Gardens of Suzhou

The classical gardens of Suzhou in Jiangsu province can trace their origins back to the sixth century BC, when the city was founded as the capital of the Wu Kingdom.

Inspired by these royal hunting gardens, private gardens began emerging around the fourth century and their development finally reached a pinnacle in the 18th century.

Dazu Rock Carvings

The Dazu Rock Carvings are made up of 75 protected sites containing some 50,000 statues, with over 100,000 Chinese characters forming both religious and secular inscriptions and epigraphs. The first carvings were made in 650 under the Tang dynasty, but the majority were produced between the ninth and 13th centuries.

Off limits to visitors for many years, the carvings were opened to Chinese travellers in 1961 and foreign visitors in 1980.

Longmen Grottoes

The grottoes and niches in Longmen in Henan Province contain a large collection of art from the time of the late Northern Wei and Tang dynasties (between the end of the fifth century until the early 10th century).

These work are regarded by many as the finest examples of Chinese Buddhist art.

There are as many as 100,000 statues within the 2,345 caves, ranging from 25 millimetres to 17 metres in height. The area also contains nearly 2,500 stelae and inscriptions, giving it the name “Forest of Ancient Stelae”, as well as over sixty Buddhist pagodas.

Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom

The sites in Liaoning and Jilin provinces are very close to the modern-day border with North Korea and reflect the deep roots Korean culture has in this part of the world

It includes the archaeological remains of three cities and 40 tombs, which were built by the Koguryo, whose kingdom was founded in 37BC in northeastern China and later extended into northern Korea.

Grand Canal

With a length of 1,776 kilometres, this is the longest man-made waterway in the world, linking the Yellow River and Yangtze.

Starting in Beijing, it passes through Tianjin and four other provinces before reaching the city of Hangzhou.

Constructed in sections from the 5th century BC onwards, it was conceived as a unified means of communication for the Sui dynasty for the first time in the 7th century AD.

It has played an important role in ensuring China’s economic prosperity and stability and is still in use today as a major means of communication.