Fuzhou, Fujian: Inject Vitality into “Gucuo”

2020-04-12 10:48:46

Economic Daily • China Economic Net

Reporter Xue Zhiwei Correspondent Ye Huating

Fuzhou, Fujian: Inject Vitality into “Gucuo”

Three Lanes and Seven Alleys. Photograph by Ye Yibin (v.jingjiribao.cn)

Fuzhou, Fujian: Inject Vitality into “Gucuo”

Yongde Hall, a modern traditional architecture integrating Chinese and western cultural characteristics in Fuzhou, Fujian. (by Xinhua News Agency)

Fuzhou, Fujian: Inject Vitality into “Gucuo”

Ao’fengfang, historical and cultural block in Fuzhou, Fujian. Photograph by Ye Yibin (v.jingjiribao.cn)

The recent years have witnessed the efforts of Fuzhou City, Fujian Province in pooling the wisdom and strength of all parties concerned to constantly fulfill the monument protection responsibilities, accelerate the construction of historical and cultural blocks, and improve the protection capacity and level of “Gucuo” (ancient houses). A range of new measures and methods have made “Gucuo” continuously rejuvenated.

As the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee is around the corner, Fuzhou, based on its characteristic “Gucuo”, launched a new round of actions for protecting ancient houses and improving urban quality. From March 12th on, Gulou District took the lead in implementing the “Gucuo Curator System”, and formulated and issued the “Implementation Plan for the Comprehensive Execution of Gucuo Curator System in Gulou District” to comprehensively improve the concept and effectiveness of protecting the historical and cultural heritage in Gulou District.

Protecting the “Root” and “Spirit” of Gucuo

“Gucuo is the vehicle of Fuzhou’s history and culture, and we can interpret from them the historical and cultural genomes that are unique to Fuzhou,” said Huang Hanmin, former chief architect of Fujian Provincial Institute of Architectural Design and Research. Gucuo not only reminds Fujian people of the bond with hometowns, but also remains conducive to the inheritance of Fuzhou’s thousand-year-long history.

In recent years, Fuzhou has invested a total of more than RMB 30 billion to comprehensively sort out historical memories and symbols of the old city and Fuzhou elements, to highlight the historical features and cultural connotations of Mindu (another name for the capital city of Fujian Province), to coordinate the protection and renovation of the three historical and cultural blocks as Three Lanes and Seven Alleys, Zhuzifang, and Shangxiahang, and to implement the conservation and rehabilitation projects for the Ming-Dynasty City Wall Ruins, Xindian Ancient City Relics and other cultural blocks and architectural complexes, like Yantai Hill and Yeshan Hill. In 2018, conservation projects for 15 characteristic historical and cultural blocks were launched.

“From protecting the Three Lanes and Seven Alleys to building 15 historical and cultural blocks and over 200 old streets and alleys, Fuzhou has achieved the upgrading from the protection of single architectures to whole areas, and the overall situation of these cultural heritages has undergone optimistic changes,” said Lyu Zhou, director of the National Heritage Center of Tsinghua University, who has visited Fuzhou many times and participated in the protection of such cultural heritage as Three Lanes and Seven Alleys and Black Pagoda.

As major parks gradually reopen, Yushan Scenic Area has also received many visitors. However, the prestigious Qigong Memorial Temple in Yushan Mountain is still closed. In front of the Qigong Memorial Temple, many workers are setting up scaffolds, and the open ground is piled up with building materials. It is reported that this round of renovation and upgrading covers 9 ancient buildings, including Baiyun Temple and Bushan Vihara, with a total covered area of about 1,120 square meters.

At the construction site, the reporter saw that many ancient buildings were overgrown with weeds on the roof, and the walls also suffered from paint shedding and damages. Sun Wei, director of the Management Office of Yushan Scenic Area Park, said that during the renovation, the park would identify and remove the parts that were inconsistent with the historical appearance due to maintenance, reconstruction and addition in the later period of use, according to the existing architectural features and remaining traces, so as to maximize the preservation of the historical appearance of the building. “For example, red bricks were used to seal the windows during the previous repairs of Penglai Pavilion, leaving mingled blue and red colors on the exterior walls. This upgrading will ‘open the windows’ for Penglai Pavilion, with the red bricks removed and the surrounding cement ground restored to stone pavement.”

At present, of the on-going 211 “Gucuo” protection and upgrade projects in 91 categories, 122 have been completed, and all of them are planned to be basically completed by the end of May.

Promote the Revitalization and Utilization of “Gucuo”

Hold on to Gucuo and keep the bond with hometowns in local residents’ minds. Over the years, Fuzhou authorities have consistently focused on the individualized restoration and utilization of “Gucuo”, actively promoted the integration of culture and tourism, and increased efforts in publicity and promotion, to fully demonstrate the achievements of Fuzhou cultural heritage protection.

At present, injecting vitality into cultural heritage has become a new concept and new way of cultural heritage protection. “We must adhere to rational utilization and innovated transformation on the basis of well-arranged protection, and actively promote the integration of culture and tourism, and make every endeavor to bring the cultural heritage ‘rejuvenated’ and ‘popular’, so that the urban memories can be better passed on,” said Weng Guoping, director of Fuzhou Cultural and Tourism Bureau.

Take the Three Lanes and Seven Alleys as an example. There are more than 200 ancient buildings preserved in the Three Lanes and Seven Alleys Historical and Cultural Block. Among them, Shuixie Stage and Ermei Bookstore have been used for tourists respectively as venues for the Folklore Museum and Exhibition of Intangible Cultural Heritage. At the same time, Three Lanes and Alleys often hold Fuzhou traditional folk exhibition and experience activities, which have attracted lacquerware, cork paintings and many other forms of folk arts to settle in, and gradually become a display center and an exchange platform for Fuzhou traditional culture, as well as a cultural and creative industry base. Since 2015, the Three Lanes and Seven Alleys Historical and Cultural Block has received more than 10 million visitors each year for 4 consecutive years.

In order to meet the needs of citizens and tourists to visit “Gucuo”, the Fuzhou Cultural and Tourism Bureau has also launched 4 classic Fuzhou “Gucuo” and 8 must-visit Fuzhou “Gucuo”, and created 10 Fuzhou “Gucuo” tourist routes including ancient garden series and memorial temple series, which has shown the proactive results of the protection of cultural relics and ancient buildings in Fuzhou.

At the conservation and restoration site of historic buildings in the Southern Park,the renovation of exterior facade of the timber-framed buildings at No. 64-66, Lutong Street was basically completed. Guided by Chen Mulin, a member of the ancient architecture expert group of the National Cultural Heritage Administration, several workers wearing masks were working on wood components in an orderly manner.

“The historic buildings in the Southern Park are unique among the architectural complexes in Fuzhou City,” said Chen Mulin. These historical buildings are an important part of Fuzhou’s landscape as a historical and cultural city and they witnessed China-foreign friendship, carried the bond with hometowns of Ryukyu islanders, and showcased the  foreign trade port. Regarding this restoration, Fuzhou will stick to the themes of “in memory of the Marine Silk Road and friendship between China and Ryukyu” and “Port City for Tribute Delegations and Grand View of the River-side City”, consider each part’s architectural forms and spatial environmental characteristics, and create the historical and cultural block integrating the mark of Maritime Silk Road, tribute and reward culture and exotic customs through scientific layout and guidance.

“In order to explore new paths for the sustainable development and utilization of historical buildings, Fuzhou has actively launched the construction of demonstration projects for the protection and utilization of historical buildings. The first phase covers 35 sites,” said Yang Yong, director of the Fuzhou Historic and Cultural City Management Committee. By promoting the demonstration projects for the protection and utilization of historical buildings, Fuzhou will explore effective paths for the revitalization and utilization of historical building from the perspectives of utilization mode, transformation technology, management mechanism, and public participation, and sum up the experience that can be promoted on a large scale.

Coordinate “Gucuo” Protection and Urban Development

When you walk into the Taiyu River Park, you can see clear water running smoothly, beautiful landscape and green banks, with the sea of flowers, poetic galleries and tree-lined roads awaiting your arrival. After the completion of the demonstrative section of the beaded parks along the Taiyu River, which was once black and smelly, many of old buildings around the park are visible. Among them, a century-old mansion named Changcheng Hongzhuancuo (Changcheng Red Brick House) has become the iconic landscape of the park.

The Taiyu River, originally a dead-end river, was included in the treatment list of black and odorous water in 2017. In order to protect a red-brick house built during the Republic of China era and a second-class ancient tree along the river, the Gurong (Banyan) Square and the Hongzhuancuo (Red Brick House) Square were built separately.

Fuzhou is also actively exploring a new model of cultural heritage protection and promoting the coordinated development of “Gucuo” protection and urban construction.

Walking into the Mishu Alley at the center of the old downtown of Gulou, you can see white walls and black roof-tiles, as well as vibrant flowers and trees.

“The Mishu Alley was disordered in the past. It was a cement pavement with cables hanging up in the sky and illegal buildings on both sides. Neither were streetlights bright enough at night,” recalled Mr. Xia Yuan and his wife, residents of the alley. The solemn and elegant style of this 260-meter-long alley has been preserved through the project renovating the old alleys and lanes, which removed illegal and incongruous buildings and cables and added “pocket parks”. 

“There are many streets and lanes in the old downtown, whose beauty is on par with that of the Mishu Alley,” said the head of Fuzhou Municipal Construction Bureau. In 2019, 92 old alleys and lanes in the city took on a new look. This year, Fuzhou will continue to undertake the renovation and upgrading in a systematic and comprehensive way by focusing on the old alleys and lanes with intensive residential populations and rich cultural heritage. According to the concept of “one tailored policy for each street”, the historical culture and functional positioning of each alley and lane will be deeply explored, and the road paving and building facades will be more carefully designed.

In addition to the old alleys and lanes, Fuzhou also pays high attention to the comprehensive improvement of the blocks. This year, the Fuzhou Municipal Resources and Planning Bureau will lead the integrated planning and overall improvement of important commercial, cultural, and landscape blocks in the central urban area.

Every “Gucuo” is a piece of history and full of stories. As a national famous historical and cultural city, Fuzhou of Fujian Province has been established for over 2200 years boasting of more than 7000 years of historical and cultural deposits. Many of its historic buildings have been preserved to this day and “Gucuo” is one of the most distinctive features. The many “Gucuo” buildings in Fuzhou, such as Three Lanes and Seven Alleys, Honglincuo and Sanluocuo (or Three Juxtaposed Houses), enable it to keep the original layout of the ancient city relatively intact. In recent years, Fuzhou has continuously renewed the vitality of “Gucuo” via a range of new measures and methods.