China to step up efforts to ensure safety of cultural relics

20 April 2020

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CHINA – China will step up protection of cultural relics and epidemic prevention and control measures among cultural institutions nationwide during the pandemic, said Liu Yuzhu, director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration (NCHA).

“The safety of cultural relics is the red line, bottom line and lifeline that we will always adhere to in the course of our work,” the director told media in an interview on Thursday.

Noting that some museums and cultural institutions have resumed work in an orderly manner, Liu said a set of COVID-19 prevention measures, such as monitoring health status, controlling visitor flows, epidemic warning and emergency management, must be put in place to ensure the safety of visitors, staff and cultural relics.

The institutions were urged to inform their workers about knowledge on epidemic prevention and control, as well as to carry out safety inspection and enhance emergency response preparedness to ensure warning and handling of epidemic situations properly.

Cutting-edge technologies to safeguard cultural relics

According to a recent report from the administration, financial departments at all levels allocated more than 1.45 billion yuan in 2019 for the protection of cultural relics and heritage sites.

The funds were distributed to nearly 470 protection projects of national cultural relics and historic sites, including fire protection, security, and lightning protection, and also used to launch over 400 new protection projects covering national key cultural relics units around the country.

“More cutting-edge technologies, such as drones, robots, and satellite remote-sensing, have been utilized in safety and law enforcement inspections to protect cultural relics,” said Liu, adding that “China is witnessing increasing capabilities in terms of safeguarding cultural relics and early warning of potential risks.”

The report also shows that more than 270,000 law enforcement inspections were carried out nationwide in 2019, and 819 law violations were registered.

Theft, illegal excavation, and fires are major threats to the safety of cultural relics, according to Liu. He added that the administration has also been cooperating with the police to carry out campaigns to crack down on relevant crimes.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Public Security, the administration last year handled a total of 542 cultural relic-related crimes with more than 1,600 suspects caught in such cases, and 11,164 pieces of historical artifacts retrieved.

Fire hazards: a risk

Noting that fire has always been a great threat to all of the cultural and historic treasures, Liu urged administrative departments of cultural relics to be on alert.

In the past few years several world-famous museums and historical sites, such as the Notre Dame in Paris and Brazil’s National Museum, were severely destroyed by fires, making institutions across the globe more vigilant.

In 2019, a total of 21 fire accidents in cultural relics were reported to the administration, among them one involved a world cultural heritage site and four major historical and cultural sites protected at the national level.

Liu pointed out that some cases of forest fires reported this year, such as the massive forest fire in Liangshan, Sichuan, have threatened local cultural relics nearby.

The NCHA called for museums and cultural institutions nationwide to improve their fire safety equipment and strengthen fire prevention measures.

For those located in or nearby mountain forests, he asked for close monitoring with special measures taken to guard against potential fire risks, for instance, setting up firebreaks or fire barriers to protect the sites.

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