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Around China: Cross-strait efforts target World Heritage status
Updated: 2013-05-13

Zheng Tiande, a resident in east China's Fujian Province, had no idea what a World Culture Heritage property was until he found out that the century-old house where he was born and raised could become one.

The 82-year-old is eager to see the ancient red-brick houses in his hometown be placed on the World Heritage List. "Therefore, my home will be preserved for my descendants," said Zheng, living in Xiamen City in southern Fujian.

Lin Chong-chi, a college teacher in Taiwan, also hopes the red-brick houses in the region's Kinmen County will win the World Heritage status. "It would give our young people a glimpse into the history and culture of Kinmen and southern Fujian," he said.

Both Zheng and Lin's wishes will hopefully come true as authorities across the Taiwan Strait are in talks about jointly submitting ancient red-brick houses in Fujian and Kinmen for inscription on the World Heritage List.

The distinctive folk houses, dating back at least to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), are built with plenty of red bricks and red tiles, while black tiles are more commonly used in China, said Cao Chunping, associate professor of the Architecture Department of Xiamen University.

With their roof ridges slightly upturned in the shape of swallow tails at both ends, the houses also distinguish themselves in their unique delicate decoration and color patterns.

Today, there are more than 3,000 ancient red-brick houses dotted around Fujian's Xiamen, Quanzhou and Zhangzhou cities and some 2,000 in Kinmen, facing Fujian across the Strait.

Kinmen, which used to be part of Fujian, has been under Taiwan's jurisdiction since 1949. Once a beachhead of conflicts between the mainland and Taiwan, Kinmen has now become a thriving hub of cross-Strait cooperation and exchange.

"Kinmen and south Fujian share the same ancestral roots and cultural origins. Ancient red-brick houses are common cultural relics for the mainland and Taiwan people," said Lee Hsi-Lung, director of the Tourism Bureau of Kinmen County.

If the joint application succeeds, Taiwan will have its first World Heritage site, according to Ruan Yisan, a professor in architecture with the Shanghai-based Tongji University.

Moreover, the campaign will help the people across the Strait build a sense of national identity, said Ruan, a winner of the Asia-Pacific Regions' Heritage Conservation Outstanding Achievement of 2003.

From 2008 to 2011, officials with Kinmen's culture bureau visited Xiamen and Quanzhou three times to discuss the joint application. In 2011, Kinmen established an official promotion committee for applying for the World Heritage status.

The application offers an opportunity for the mainland and Kinmen to learn from each other in the conservation of cultural relics, Kinmen magistrate Lee Wo-shih said, adding that the mainland has experience in World Heritage applications.

The cooperation was further advanced by a cross-strait academic seminar for the protection of ancient red-brick houses held in Quanzhou in June 2012. More than 200 experts attending the seminar called for concerted efforts to preserve and promote the cultural relic.

Experts said the conservation of ancient red-brick houses nowadays has been challenged by the corroding effects of wind and rain, accelerating urbanization and the ever-changing way of modern life.

Starting from 2002, the Kinmen government has explored a series of protection measures, including hiring experienced craftsmen to revamp the old houses while maintaining their original look and subsidizing house owners willing to repair their homes, said Lee Hsi-Lung.

During the past five years, the local government has renovated more than 300 ancient red-brick houses, he said.

"If the application succeeds, it'll be great. But successful or not, I hope these old houses will be better protected and preserved," said Lin Chong-chi.