Readers of this blog will know that I have often traveled to the historic city of Weishan, in Yunnan, China. Origin place of the Nanzhao Empire that became the Dali Kingdom before Yunnan was incorporated into China, Weishan was an important site on the Tea-Horse Route and home to Weibaoshan, a mountain with two dozen Taoist and Buddhist temples. For more than 620 years, travelers and traders passed through the impressive North Gate, virtually the only surviving element of the original city wall. I have photographed it nearly every year since 2003, and it is one of two National landmarks in Weishan. Four times I brought students to visit. Continue Reading
When I was a kid, there was a tween game where you sat in a circle and clapped and called out “Categories! Names Of!” and then someone shouted a category and you had to keep on shouting out examples of that category or you lost the game.
The nature of thought requires us to divide things into categories. This is good, because it facilitates learning. We need categories to begin to understand the multivalence of our world. To this extent, categories are our friends. As our understanding progresses, we begin to see the limitations – the false boundaries – of categories. As we grow, categories become our enemies.
Architectural history is a good example. We begin by learning styles and periods. Federal, Italianate, Queen Anne, Richardsonian Romanesque, Beaux-Arts, Craftsman, Art Deco. We study the defining characteristics of each of these styles and pretty soon we are able to survey buildings in the streetscape and categorize them.
I recently became Chair of the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund, an organization I have been involved with for almost four years. GHF has patented a Preservation by Design® approach to saving World Heritage in developing countries. The approach follows to some extent the disciplinary boundaries we regularly bridge in teaching historic preservation: Design, Planning, Conservation and History. For GHF’s Preservation by Design®, the four are Planning, Conservation, Community Development and Partnerships. The emphasis on Community Development and Partnerships is key to the modern practice of heritage conservation. Continue Reading
This is Dao, written on the side of a temple on Weibaoshan, the “quietest mountain in China” deep in Yunnan. Dao means the way, which can be as simple as a road or path or as complex as all of the doubts and triumphs within the human psyche. As one of the two 2,500 year old Chinese traditions, Daoism is the one that looks inward at the self, both in an attempt to follow right action (to borrow a Buddhist phrase) and to seek contemplative truths. Continue Reading
Shoso-in, 8th century temple pavilion at Nara, photographed 2004.
“Authenticity” is a word we keep coming back to in the world of cultural heritage conservation. The concept of authenticity lies at the centerpiece of the international charters that have defined preservation practice since the 1930s, and especially since the shift toward “intangible cultural heritage” that began with the Nara document in 1994.
Authenticity is a key aspect of how visitors encounter and experience historic sites. In our work in the Weishan Heritage Valley in China, we stress the value to the heritage tourist of authenticity. This is an argument for maintaining local businesses along the Southern Silk Road in Weishan, rather than removing them for tourist shops, as has been done in Lijiang, a World Heritage Site that experienced catastrophic tourist development and became an economic monoculture. Continue Reading
The rice replanting was in full swing throughout Yunnan when we were there in May and June, and you could watch this millenia-old agricultural ritual as we traveled north from Weishan to visit Jianchuan, to see the famous grottos and also the restored temples in Shaxi town. The Swiss had been involved in the efforts to restore these temples, which have some very excellent early Ming duogong, something you rarely see. Anyway, here are the temples at Shaxi in Jianchuan, Yunnan.
I gave a tour of the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor on Wednesday – well, half of it, since it is a 100 miles long and you can only do about half of it in a day. We went through Willow Springs, Lemont and then spent time in Lockport and Joliet, visiting OF COURSE the Gaylord Building in Lockport and the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet. I have been doing this tour for OVER 25 years, so it provided some reflection on how much progress there has been over that period of time, but I also noted – having done the same tour for the Art Institute last summer – how much progress there has been in the last 10 months.
There is now a “Rialto Arts District” featuring three galleries around the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet. There are even more sculptures and murals in that town (and a few less landmarks). The best change is undoubtedly the reopened Public Landing in Lockport, which provides incredibly great vistas of the Gaylord Building and most importantly, from an interpretive point of view, allows you to see how the Gaylord and Norton buildings functioned during their heyday as transshipment warehouses for grain and goods traveling from farm to canal to market. Continue Reading
Thanks to Barry Maclean, the restoration of the Dong Yue temple in Weishan, Yunnan province is well underway. In this picture you can actually see the qiuwen screen that we found on site in 2004 when our SAIC students produced measured plans and a re-use plan for the temple site, on the edge of historic Weishan city and just below Weibaoshan, one of the 13 sacred Taoist mountains of China. Kudos to Mr. Li who is directing the restoration. The missing qiuwen screen was replicated, but without the characters in the interstices, a wise move. The decorative plaster on the side walls was restored and/or replicated only as necessary. This is the second excellent restoration in Weishan, the other being the Chang Chun temple on Weibaoshan. Both projects have a steady understated approach, unlike the gaudy over-restoration that one often finds.
Traffic and pouring rain made the half hour trip through Kunming take over an hour. By the time the taxi got to the airport it was less than an hour before our flight and the driver had to navigate a flooded parking lot with water bubbling up from the sewers. Two days earlier we were caught on a mountain pass between Weishan and Dali, trapped behind a van stuck in two feet of red mud. Muslim women pushed the van out but by then there were a hundred cars and trucks lined up and we were an hour late to Dali. Welcome to the rainy season in Yunnan, the high-elevation tropical southwest of China. This is part of my job.
We made the plane and there is a woman on a stretcher right behind me where three rows of seats used to be. Last night we sat in an ex-pat bar in Kunming drinking Laotian beer with Angel, our Burmese-Chinese interpreter and her friends. It had been a day of losing things – first Jonathan left his camera in a tuk-tuk in Weishan, which the honest driver brought back, then he left his backpack in a Dali restaurant and also got it back. In the morning Andrew couldn’t find his wedding band (he found it) and in the evening Jerry misplaced an umbrella (also found). Normal travel stuff, lost items and rain delays. Continue Reading