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China set to protect historic villages

China is determined to make extra efforts to protect its traditional and historic villages, as a huge number of them have been demolished amid rapid urbanization.

Historic buildings should not be removed but instead put under careful protection, said Zhao Hui, director of the rural construction department of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.

"Today we launched work to protect traditional villages as a whole, including tangible and intangible cultural heritage," he said. "Therefore, historic buildings should not be removed but gradually repaired and improved."

Zhao was speaking at a news conference held by the State Council Information Office in Beijing on improving the rural environment and strengthening the protection and development of ancient villages.

His comments come just months after kung fu movie star Jackie Chan donated several ancient Chinese houses to Singapore.

Chan bought 10 antique sandalwood houses in Anhui province about 20 years ago and said he had planned to refurbish them for his parents to live in. As his parents died before the work was complete, the film star decided to donate them. He donated four of the houses to the Singaporean government in 2009, which gave them to the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Chinese media and netizens expressed concern about the future of Chinese historic buildings after Chan said he was impressed by the Singaporean recipients' excellent preservation work and planned to donate the rest to the Singaporean university this year.

Chan changed his mind and announced that he would donate at least four homes from the collection to Yizhuang, a town in Beijing's Daxing district, in September, media reported.

A national survey in 2012 showed the vast majority of traditional villages disappeared amid China's urbanization and only about 12,000 were left, accounting for less than 2 percent of the country's total administrative villages, Zhao said.

He said experts also estimate that less than 5,000 traditional villages with important conservation value still exist.

He said three types of villages can be classified as traditional ones: those that have abundant historic buildings; those with rich tangible or intangible cultural relics; or those that boast architecture and characteristics that reflect China's agriculture civilization.

The central government will speed up designing a long-term plan on the protection and development of traditional villages with measures including financial and technical support from the central government.

During a visit in July to Dongshan, a village in Hubei province, President Xi Jinping said it is vital to prevent massive demolition and reconstruction in rural areas.

Zhao said the government is considering legislation on preventing demolition in traditional villages.

Yu Jianrong, a professor specializing in rural development at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, urged local governments and village committees to provide more guidance for people to better protect their villages.

"Many farmers lack awareness to protect their villages, and some enjoyed bringing in new elements from cities such as tall and concrete residential buildings that failed to match the village's overall style," he said.

Zhang Bing, who is in charge of intangible cultural relics protection for the Ministry of Culture, said most intangible cultural heritage in China is in rural villages, especially in areas where ethnic groups live.

"It is our responsibility to protect these traditional villages, which helps to protect the diversity of peoples," he said.