Cultural heritage sites more than just ‘buildings,’ need protection: activists


TAIPEI–The protection of cultural heritage sites should not be limited to the protection of buildings and relics, cultural heritage site protection activists told a two-day forum that opened in Taipei on Friday.

Such protection should also include intangible cultural heritage such as oral history, the performing arts, social customs, festivals and traditional handicrafts, said Etienne Mathieu, president of the Paris-based Oriental Cultural Heritage Sites Protection Alliance, which organized the forum.

Titled “From South Asia to Taiwan — Cultural Heritage, History’s Memories, Buddhist Art,” the forum was held to forge long-lasting academic ties between Taiwan and the Oriental Cultural Heritage Sites Protection Alliance, and to call on Taiwanese people to preserve cultural heritage sites, the local host of the event said in a statement.

Mathieu said that economic development, urbanization, industrialization and the convenience of traveling in recent decades has damaged some precious cultural relics, but added that his alliance is making efforts to preserve some of those sites.

The alliance is cooperating with UNESCO to support a project in Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha, and another in a site in Bhutan, and hopes to take on projects in China and India, Mathieu said.

Meanwhile, Fu Chao-ching, a professor at National Cheng Kung University, said that the Taiwanese authorities often focus on the “architectural” aspects of cultural sites such as Buddhist temples, instead of their historical, artistic and cultural values.

He said that history, immigrant culture, rituals and music are also important values to consider when determining the value of a Buddhist site.

Roland Lin, a researcher at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, called attention to the destruction of priceless Buddha statues in Afghanistan a decade ago.

He was referring to two monumental statues in the Bamiyan Valley that stood for 1,500 years before being blown up by the Taliban, who saw them as idols.

“It was not only a destruction of artifacts, but also a blow to the (relationship between) different ethnicities in Afghanistan,” Lin said.

Lin said UNESCO has made efforts to preserve the Bamiyan ruins over the past 10 years and that the involvement of local experts in such projects is vital to guaranteeing sustainable management of the sites.

Meanwhile, Yukio Nishimura, vice president of the University of Tokyo, shared how his team strengthened the conservation and management of the archeological remains of Lumbini.

He said the lessons that people could learn from Lumbini were to “integrate world heritage sites into regional contexts,” and to reach a balance between improving local people’s lives and protecting the sites.

A total of 22 scholars from more than eight countries presented their papers at the forum.