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Stubborn persistence in pursuit of World Heritage status

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I can outlast you

Two famous Chinese mountains were put up for UNESCO World Heritage status this year. Shanxi's Mount Wutai was successful and was recognized for its wealth of Buddhist architecture.

Mount Song, a Daoist peak in Henan Province that is home to the Shaolin Temple, missed the cut and had its application put off until next year.

Not to worry, writes Xie Yong in an op-ed for the The Beijing News chock full of martial arts references: the persistence of regional authorities in their pursuit of international recognition will eventually wear down the judging panel and win World Heritage status for Mount Song as well:

The wonders of "Chinese-style heritage bids"

by Xie Yong / TBN

One of the most mocked scenes in martial arts fiction has a student coming to find a teacher to instruct him in the art, and he kneels for days before the gate as snow gathers on the ground, until finally the master, moved by his persistence, accepts him as a disciple. As I muse on such stories now that my age and reading experience have increased and my heart has grown gloomier, they seem a little off: both teacher and student are clearly scheming shortsightedly. And while the eventual outcome always has the teacher finding a disciple and the student finding a teacher, and everyone is happy, I always wonder whether, having gone through that bout of suffering and scheming, the teacher-student and student-teacher relationship will contain much sincerity at all.

These musings were spurred by the enlightening remarks made by one official from Henan's Cultural Heritage Bureau. According to the Oriental Morning Post, after examination of the twenty-seven bids for Cultural Heritage status at the 33rd World Heritage Convention, China's Mount Wutai barely made the cut, while another application, for Mount Song's historical architecture, was returned with a request for supplemental material, and its decision was postponed until next year, bringing to an end China's remarkable unbroken fifteen-year string of successful applications. As for why Mount Song's bid got "jammed," an official from Zhengzhou's Municipal Cultural Bureau who attended the convention said that the expert panel had already arrived at the decision to turn it down: "Our charge at the pass got tied up, and although things did not turn out exactly as we would have liked, we basically achieved our goals." The official said that after more than one hour of animated debate by the committee, the status of Mount Song's bid was changed from "postponed indefinitely" to "decided next year," making it an automatic candidate next year.

After reading that statement, a scene gradually coalesced in my mind: Wei Xiaobao [hero of Jin Yong's The Deer and the Cauldron] at the feet of a master, clutching at her leg: "Master, take me in. If you don't, then I'll come grab at you again tomorrow...." I firmly believe that the World Heritage application for Mount Song's architecture, which includes the famous Shaolin Temple, will reach an entirely satisfactory conclusion next year. Just like Wei Xiaobao achieved meteoric success, delighted in women, and ultimately resigned his post to live out his days in satisfaction. There's nothing that the Chinese people cannot accomplish! After the Olympics, to be a Chinese person is to have such confidence. And sure enough, that Henan official was brimming with confidence. Mount Song's bid next year will definitely be successful! Only, then there's West Lake, which has been waiting patiently in line for next year — evidently, Chinese-style heritage bids will continue to struggle forward.

In both "Chinese-style apprenticeship" and the "Chinese-style heritage bid," the amazing thing is that neither teacher nor World Heritage is treated as important, and the louder it is proclaimed, the less important it becomes. For the former, look at Wei Xiaobao flattering Mao Shiba, Chen Jinnan, Kangxi, and Mie Jue. For the latter, see Lijiang, supposedly an original specimen of Naxi culture. When I went there in 2006, I first had dinner at the KFC beside the gate, and then when I passed a large waterwheel and a ring of old Naxi women dancing, I was immediately dumb struck by the throng of people. The place had become one of China's most likely venues for passionate encounters, with flashily-dressed men and women whose eyes shone as they tracked their quarry....Sure, from high up, Lijiang has become a symbol, a symbol of the free sexuality of the Chinese people that has been written into China's 21st Century history. But this identity has little to do with World Heritage.


The image of the kneeling martial arts student is a screengrab taken from the 2002 TV series The Young Wong Fei Hung (少年黄飞鸿). Li Pengfei (李鹏飞) plays Club Foot (鬼脚七), who kneels in the rain for three days and nights to gain entrance into the Shaolin Temple to further his nefarious plans.

Searching on Baidu for the show title and the name of the actor illustrates one of the annoying side-effects of China's stringent keyword filtering requirements. Here we are, looking up an entertainment factoid, something completely unrelated to anything that would be considered politically sensitive, and there's only one result. This is despite the presence of Li's name on the cast list in Baidu's own encyclopedia entry about the show.

All of the other results have been filtered for being against the law, probably because of something to do with unpopular former premier Li Peng (李鹏). Google.CN gives an identical result.

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One legal result found
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There are currently 3 Comments for Stubborn persistence in pursuit of World Heritage status.

Comments on Stubborn persistence in pursuit of World Heritage status

Or they know something about Li Pengfei that you don't...

One world, one dream. Please don't be so hard on Chinese people.

Unfortunately the English translation missed much of the sardonic wit.

As a result, those funny satire "markers" like "程门立雪" (an anecdote idiom the refers to two scholars in the 11th Century: link) and "偎红倚翠", are missing for the reader, and the text actually reads less, well, satirical.

There are a few downright errors, too, such as "scheming shortsightedly" for 瞎算计(wanton scheming), and "free sexuality" for 自由性感 (care-free sexiness), among others.

I am not surprised that UNESCO turned down Song Shan: the place is like a cheesy theme park. I don't agree with Xie Yong, however, that China doesn't give a f to UNESCO: UNESCO endorsement has to do with ticket sales. Over the years, UNESCO has become the only ally for the few lonesome cultural conservationists in China, and I am disappointed that it has so far merely flashed a yellow card to China about Li Jiang instead of a red that the philistines here really need.

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