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Published on : Friday, September 8, 2017
As China campaigned to have UNESCO grant “world heritage” status to the historic town of Gulangyu, locals enjoyed a welcome influx of tourist money. The island was duly given its UNESCO certificate this week — but the latest success in President Xi Jinping’s drive to promote Chinese culture has come at a cost.
China has become adept at international lobbying required to win UNESCO honor, with 52 world heritage sites ranking second only to Italy. Beijing also hopes its nominee will be selected as the UN cultural organization’s next director-general in October, boosting its increasing global influence.
“Like other countries, heritage is employed by China as a powerful instrument to reinforce national identity, showing that we have a glorious past,” said Yujie Zhu, a Chinese heritage lecturer at the Australian National University. However, he added that rapid commercialization often threatens the local way of life and culture. Gulangyu, known as Kulangsu in the local Fujian dialect is a typical example of this trend, which has been repeated from Tibet to the Great Wall.
The island just off the thriving port city of Xiamen gets more than 10m visitors a year, almost double the number visiting the entire Philippine archipelago last year. However, the government capped the numbers at 35,000 per day this year as part of the UNESCO bid. This is, indeed, bad news for many business owners there.