Authorities in a northern province began research on Thursday in preparation for a regulation that will allow citizens to become custodians of ancient architecture.
The regulation, expected to come into force in 2015 in Shanxi Province,will recognize the claiming of historic buildings by both individuals and organizations with sufficient assets to help with their maintenance and protection. These custodians would be allowed to develop the buildings within strict conditions, while the ownership would not be changed.
The provision, the first of its kind in China, is aimed at ramping up societal support for the protection of cultural relics, as the provincial government is finding it increasingly difficult to preserve old architecture with tight budgets, said Xu Gaozhe, an official with the Shanxi Cultural Relics Bureau.
An ancient architecture in Shanxi Province
Shanxi is home to China's greatest number of excavated works of ancient architecture, yet plenty of them have been severely damaged due to natural or artificial factors.
In recent years, both the central and local governments have provided the bulk of funding to maintain cultural sites in Shanxi, particularly those recognized at national and provincial levels, but the endeavors don't seem to have yielded satisfactory results.
Out of 28,027 pieces of ancient architecture excavated in the province, a minuscule 0.5 percent have been restored.
Another problem that has contributed to lackluster efforts is patchy enforcement of China's law for the preservation of antiques at the local level, where budget-minded governments fail to allocate enough funds in this direction.
Among the 119 districts, cities and counties of Shanxi, less than 50 have included antique protection expenses in their budgetary outlays, according to official statistics.
Governments of several localities in Shanxi, squeezed by money shortages and the urgency of building maintenance, began encouraging entrepreneurs to claim historic buildings years ago, but such programs have faltered due to a lack of legal recognition and supervision.
In fact, such efforts have often ended in scandal, with claimed ancient sites turned into luxurious hotels and restaurants by affluent citizens, infuriating the public and marring the governments' plans.
While the new law, which was proposed at the end of 2013, could be a sign of progress, the scandals underscore potential for any such regulation to be abused.
Xu Gaozhe denied this will be a risk, as the claimed architecture will be used only for public welfare, such as libraries, cultural centers or museums.
Meanwhile, the property rights of these buildings will not be altered, nor will the sites be transferred, put under mortgage, or used as premises for enterprise, under the regulation.
Any maintenance work should be approved by the cultural relics department, Xu said.
"I hope that the regulation will blaze a trail for the rest of the nation in cultural protection," the official added.