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China's ancient county promotes world heritage amid financial crisis setback

09-21-2010 08:27 BJT

PINGYAO, Shanxi Province, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- An ancient county in energy-rich Shanxi Province in central China is offsetting the impact of the international financial crisis and is seeking new financial resources to restore typical architecture from the period in the dynasties of Ming and Qing.

Pingyao, with its ancient city compound listed in 1997 as a World Cultural Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), lies in a basin surrounded by working coal mines and chimney coking plants. However, local government is attempting to replace the unpredictable and polluting industry with tourism as the heritage site's main financial resource.

"Tourism income last year accounted for more than 40 percent of Pingyao's GDP (Gross Domestic Product)," said Li Feizhong, the county magistrate, speaking during the tenth annual Pingyao International Photography Festival (PIP) which opened on Sunday.

Like other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China, the Pingyao Ancient City heavily relies on local economic growth and financial assistance, since it does not expect to receive central government funding to sustain those weathered bricks and stones that make up its ancient wall.

The international financial crisis and global downturn brought a nightmare to Shanxi's coal-related businesses from 2008 to 2009. The prices of coal and coke, an essential fuel and reducing agent used to produce steel, dropped by more than 50 percent at the end of 2008 as an aftermath of the decrease in demand by upstream industries.

However, the numbers of tourists to Pingyao in 2008 remained steady, registering the same as in past years at about 900,000. In fact, the number of tourists even jumped to more than 1,030,000 in 2009 thanks to the annual PIP festival and other government-backed events to promote local tourism.

During the week-long PIP festival this year it is estimated that more than 250,000 travellers and photography enthusiasts will pour into the ancient city, which occupies an area of only 2.2 square kilometers, and local officials will also embrace the tourist peak expected during the upcoming National Day holiday starting on Oct. 1.

"We are trying to shift the county's economic growth pattern to a smoke-free and more environmentally-friendly way of sustaining the heritage site and also seeking new resources to better protect it," said the county head.

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