A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
What is it like to work on the original hand-painted, silk-backed murals in the Lodge of Retirement at the Qianlong Garden?
It takes a lot of skill to restore traditional materials. The work is very complex. There are many details, so you need a lot of abilities. You must be devoted to the nation’s history.
But do you enjoy it?
How do you feel knowing that the work will be completed next year [now projected for late 2008]?
I feel very happy and proud. Every time I finish a painting, I feel I have accomplished something.
What first interested you in this work?
Back then, people like me were assigned to this place to work. It’s not like you decided what you wanted to do and you could just go ahead and do it. You did what you were told to do. So this was the job that was given to me. When I first started this job, I didn’t know why I had to do it. But through working, I grew to like it. My interest for it was cultivated along the way. Then the meaning of restoration of this type of building became clear to me.
Do many young people want to study conservation today?
This occupation does not need too many people, so there are only two or three colleges—not universities, colleges—that have this kind of preservation department. Only Jinlin University has this kind of department. Students have three years of classes.
How does the government feel today about restoration projects like the Qianlong Garden?
The government pays a lot of attention to protecting ancient buildings and structures, rather than protecting paintings, simply because there are not enough resources. The old historical sites were being destroyed so fast that the government realized if they didn’t do something now, these sites wouldn’t be there to face future generations.
Why is there more interest in historical preservation now?
Because the public awareness is raised…because there is more governmental involvement. In the past, no one paid attention to this area.
When did things start to change and why?
It’s hard to say exactly when it started. It was a slow, gradual evolution. One can tell from the regulations issued by the government, which can be traced back to the 1980s. That was an indication—since then, people began to be aware of the issue of heritage protection. Especially now, whenever people find anything underground at a construction site, they know they must stop and report the discovery to the Cultural Protection Administrative Bureau.
Do people today feel differently, in general, about their past than they did 30 years ago, when you first started working in this field?
Today, the entire public is aware of the importance of heritage protection. That’s very clear. A small case in point, in the past, people liked to sign their names on a wall when they visited [the Forbidden City]; but now, the general public is very annoyed when seeing anyone doing it. And from the government’s point of view, the concern is not just about protection, but how to promote historical education, cultivate love for our country, and work on the business side of it to develop tourism.
There are many angles to protecting our heritage. For example, one angle is the general person’s education level went up and second, the government, or the local government, will protect our heritage because they want to earn money and develop tourism. So everyone now thinks it’s very important to protect our heritage.