Tuesday, March 31 2020


How can heritage exist without community?

Update: January, 08/2015 - 09:53
Following a series of incidents that harmed national heritages last year, they once again asserted that heritage couldn't "live" if it is separated from the community. — Photo motthegioi

by Khanh Chi

During a recent conference that looked at the Viet Nam Cultural Heritage Association's 2104-19 term, researchers and managers spent most of their time discussing solutions to community-based cultural heritage development.

Following a series of incidents that harmed national heritages last year, they once again asserted that heritage couldn't "live" if it is separated from the community.

In the latest development, HCM City's People's Committee last month requested relevant authorities to preserve parts of the more than 100-year-old Sai Gon Tax Trade Centre. The move came following opposition to a plan to restructure the building, one of more than 60 structures built by French colonialists from 1859 to 1954.

The Sai Gon Tax Trade Centre was to be torn down to make way for metro construction and a new building, but the project met with resistance from the local community. More than 2,500 students, architects and researchers, and two foreign diplomats in the city, signed a petition calling for the preservation of the building as well as proposing solutions to that end.

The decision proves the community can triumph over authorities in the conservation of cultural heritage.

As you may know, controversy quickly broke out in October in the central province of Quang Binh after a plan was approved to build a cable car in the world's largest cave, Son Doong. The cave lies at the heart of the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, a national and UNESCO heritage site.

Even the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism was forced to jump in to demand the project be postponed, perhaps forever.

Researcher Nguyen Quang Giai from the Centre for Urban Research and Development argued that: "Culture heritage belongs to the whole nation and all social strata, so it is necessary to respect the views of the community to conserve and develop cultural values.

"The participation of the people is an indispensable part of the process of planning, conserving and developing national values, because the ultimate aim of this process is for the people," he added.

In the modern life, conservation and development usually contradict one other.

"During Viet Nam's urbanisation, there has always been one side that wants to preserve the old and another side that wants to make space for the new," said architect Nguyen Huu Thai.

Some years ago, local residents from the ancient village of Duong Lam on the outskirts of Ha Noi petitioned for their "national relic" title to be restored. It remains a prime example of the contradiction between relic preservation and the demands of local residents in actual life.

The village was recognised as a national relic in 2005, but no plans were put in place to develop the village until a petition was submitted by representatives from 60 local households in 2013. The villagers couldn't rebuild or expand their homes to meet their needs due to regulations regarding relic preservation.

Now there is a plan to develop the village, which is home to numerous hundred-year-old houses, and local people have been given guidelines on how to develop tourism and create subsidiary jobs.

"We are working with Son Tay Town's People's Committee to focus on factors that will benefit people living in the vicinity of the heritage site while adhering to the "preservation to develop" philosophy to better manage the site," said the deputy head of the Duong Lam Village Management Board, Nguyen Trong An.

Among a range of ongoing and future projects to connect the role of the local community with the preservation of the village's ancient houses, the Scientific Union for Sustainable Tourism Development is organising tours for visitors during the rice harvests.

The first tours will start this year, enabling local farmers to make a good living from their produce.

"Farmers here only exploit rice as a foodstuff. They are unaware that rice can be used to create value in terms of landscapes, art, culture or construction materials," said union chairman Dr Nguyen Thu Hanh.

"Reality teaches us that no one, not even the authorities, can protect and develop cultural heritage values more effectively than the community which gave birth to them," said the chairman of Thanh Hoa Province's Lam Kinh Cultural Heritage Association, Ho Quang Son.

"If we – the authorities – find a way to benefit the local community, especially in places where typical cultural features are in danger of disappearing, I'm convinced that our heritage will be preserved and developed sustainably."

Son said the association's successful revival of the Tra Dong bronze-casting handicraft in Thieu Hoa, which was lost many years ago, was an example of community-based conservation of cultural values. — VNS

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