Thursday, April 01, 2010

How should we take advantage of "historic figures?"

14:53, April 01, 2010

Over the past years, disputes involving the birthplaces of historic figures have emerged from time to time in many regions. Many regions spared no efforts in researching the life experiences of historic figures and built many memorials.

People living in places somehow connected with historic figures, however weak the link may be, have struggled to associate the place with the figure. Many people now even turn their eyes to the Three Emperors and Five Sovereigns (The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors were mythological rulers and culture heroes of China during the period from c. 2852 BC to 2205 BC), the Cowherd and the Weaving Maid, the Pre-Chin Philosophers, the heroes during the Three Kingdoms period, the Monkey King and Nezha.

We have witnessed more and more public memorial ceremonies recently and during this year's Tomb-Sweeping Day, such ceremonies will again be held in Henan's Huaiyang, the birth place of Fuxi (the ancestors of humankind in Chinese history ). There will also be memorials at Emperor Shun's tomb(Yao and Shun are also known as the Three Emperors, and, along with Yu the Great, founder of the Xia dynasty, were considered to be model rulers and moral exemplars by Confucians in later Chinese history. ) in Yuncheng, Shanxi province.

Meanwhile, an article written by Sun Yat-Sen(Known as "the Father of the Chinese Revolution," Sun Yat-Sen led the first insurrection against Qing dynasty in 1895.) in memorial of Emperor Huangdi( a legendary Chinese sovereign and cultural hero who is considered in Chinese mythology to be the ancestor of all Han Chinese ) will be sung during a public memorial ceremony in Shaanxi province during this year's Tomb-Sweeping Day and Chinese people at home and abroad will celebrate the ceremony.

People are now busy holding public memorial activities for the Three Emperors and Five Sovereigns, and disputes around these historic figures have now stopped. In the past, there were controversies between Henan and Shaanxi around the true birthplace of Emperor Huangdi. Henan's Zhoukou and Gansu's Tianshui both claim to be the genuine birth place of Fu Xi. Shanxi's Huangqu and Yongji have disputed the true native place of Emperor Shun. Shanxi, Shandong, Hebei, Zhejiang and Hunan have had it out over the hometown of Emperor Yao. Five regions claim to hold the hometown of the Goddess of Sky-Patching.

The interest behind historic figures

Recently, a planned tourist attraction in Wenchuan (the birthplace of Emperor Yu) triggered yet another controversy. Local government bodies had planned to invest 550 million yuan to build a scenic spot combining a sacrificial altar, numerous tourism and entertainment projects and service facilities.

In the second half of last year, a controversy around Li Po's native hometown made two county-level cities (Sichuan's Jiangyou and Hubei's Anlu) become well-known. Why did Jiangyou call itself the native birthplace of Li Po (a greatest poets in China's literary history)? Why did Anlu spend money on a CCTV advertisement which claimed, "Welcome to Anlu, the birthplace of Li Po, and the town of Ginkgo?"

According to Pu Yongjian, deputy director of the Publicity Department of the CPC Municipal Committee of Jiangyou, the city's status as the birthplace of Li Po will promote the development of local tourism greatly. In 2005, Jiangyou was endorsed as one of the top tourist cities of China by the National Tourism Administration. In 2007, Jiangyou obtained tourism revenue of 1.3 billion yuan, a 3-fold increase from 2003.

Why did Anlu participate in a competition with Jiangyou? In 2008, the fiscal revenue of Anlu was 300 million yuan. However, it spent nearly 1 million yuan on an advertisement which was broadcasted 150 times on CCTV between February and December 2008. The ad focused on two selling points—the native birthplace of Li Po and the town of Ginkgo. According to Chen Zuoyi, director of the Publicity Department of the CPC Municipal Committee of Anlu, the city spent money on the ad in a bid to improve the city's image in the minds of the general public as the First China Ginkgo Festival was to be held in Anlu in November 2008.

"Lisa, The Iconoclast"


In the past, most people just blamed the local governments for ungracefully grabbing economic interests, or mocked their "Ah Q mentality," or criticized experts and scholars who advocated playing the "historic figures" card. However, some have recently expressed their willingness to put a damper on the "historic figures" card, or simply hope that the local governments can turn disadvantages into advantages.

Pros: Playing the "historic figures" card is in accordance with a "low-carbon economy."

Almost all of public opinion criticizes exploiting historic figures, but an editorial recently published in the "Legal Evening News" showed no objection to this, but only expressed concerns over the matters following the "historic figures" card.

The editorial mentioned that it is reasonable for local governments to play the "historic figures" card in order to develop local tourism. These small places have neither economic mainstay nor support policy, and relying on historic figures is actually the same as relying on natural resources, for they are just two different ways to explore local resources. Furthermore, playing the “historic figures" card is in accordance with a "low-carbon economy," which is much better than developing polluting industries.

However, the author also pointed out that the local governments should think over questions such as how to best play the card and how long the card will be in effect. If the local governments only build some theme parks and antique-looking houses for historic figures without forming a cultural tourism industrial chain, it will be no different from real estate development. In addition to boosting GDP in the short-term, they will only have "vanity projects" left.

Cons: It is lazy of local governments to play the "historic figures" card.

"Some may think it is easier to play the 'historic figures' card to gain more economic interests," commented Zhengzhou Daily after the debates over the hometown of "Zhao Yun" (a brave general during the Three Kingdoms period).

The author said that Zhengding and Lincheng counties both claimed to be the hometown of Zhao Yun, but they were just shooting themselves in the foot. Are the ridiculous Zhao Yun projects intended to play down the culture of the Three Kingdoms? It is known to all that these projects will only damage their pre-existing cultural legacies. If they are so eager for quick success and instant benefits, while treating history in such a blundering way, they will definitely become the laughingstock of history.

The author also pointed out that even if local governments really want to play the "historic figures" card, there should be certain strategies. In most cases, they play the card under the influence of political power, which is actually misplaced. They think that the "Zhao Yun" card will produce instant benefits, but it is clear that they are oversimplifying a complex matter.

By People's Daily Online

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