Plans afoot to seek World Heritage status for Silk Road outpost

Plans afoot to seek World Heritage status for Silk Road outpost
Juyan, which lies deep in the Gobi Desert in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region's Alxa League, was once a key stop on the ancient Silk Road. It hosts ruins today.
PHOTO: China Daily/Asia News Network

Juyan, which lies deep in the Gobi Desert, is familiar to some when it comes to ancient frontier outposts, even though most people probably do not know where it's located.

Its fame is largely attributed to its mention in On a Mission Towards the Frontiers by Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Wang Wei.

Juyan, located in Ejin Banner, a county-level administrative region in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region's Alxa League, was once a key stop on the ancient Silk Road.

At a recent symposium organised by Peking University in Beijing, experts and local government officials said that preparations were underway to apply for Juyan to be inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

According to the plan, a cultural heritage park will be set up in the area before 2020, and official bidding documents will be handed in by 2025.

"The site was a witness to exploration and communication along the Silk Road," says Sun Jianjun, deputy director of Alxa's cultural heritage administration.

"It had huge political, economic and cultural significance in ancient times."

Photo: China Daily/Asia News Network

Juyan, covering an area of 15,600 square kilometers, has some of the largest surviving remains of the Great Wall, Sun says.

The remains, dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), comprise 172 beacon towers and over 12.8 km of wall.

"Juyan was created thanks to the Han idea of combining a military post and agriculture," he says. "It (Juyan) was a highly developed agricultural site in ancient times."

Sun Jiazhou, a history professor at Renmin University of China, says that of the 73,000 wood and bamboo slips from the Han Dynasty - important historical records - discovered in China, more than 32,000 were unearthed in Juyan.

"It will greatly help the World Heritage application process if we can study these slips," the professor says.

Other significant remains in the area pertain to Heicheng, which is also known by its Mongolian name, Khara-Khoto.

It was founded in 1032, and later became a key business hub for the Western Xia, an empire built by the Tangut people.

Between 1908 and 1909, Russian adventurer Pyotr Kozlov led an expedition to the area and took more than 10,000 artifacts and Tangut manuscripts from there.

Kozlov was followed by other adventurers in the next few decades, the most famous of whom is probably Briton Aurel Stein.

Since Juyan was listed as a national-level cultural heritage site in 1988, the preservation of the area has been greatly improved.

For instance, remote-monitoring is done in Heicheng to better oversee the site. And about 40 million yuan ($5.8 million) has been allocated by the central government for protection of Juyan in the past three years.

Some experts say that the road to World Heritage status will not be easy.

Guo Zhan, an expert in the field of World Heritage protection with the China Cultural Relic Academy, says: "One issue is whether to look at Juyan as an expanded project and include sites that are already on the World Heritage list or to consider it as an independent entity.

"More interdisciplinary academic support is needed to decide on this."

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