The 600-year old Gongchen Tower (拱辰楼), an impressive tower gate topped with a Chinese style pavilion that was home to a tea house where a local orchestra rehearsed old melodies.
The tower is no more. It was destroyed by fire on January, 3rd 2015.
Built in 1390, it was the symbol of Weishan 巍山 and one of the rare early Ming dynasty structure still standing. According to the story run by CCTV1, (video in Chinese), the Gongchen Tower was a protected historical relic at the provincial level (i.e. Yunnan) . The Nanzhao orchestra (南诏古乐团) which managed and operated the tower. The orchestra used the wooden pavilion to rehearse melodies classified as ‘immaterial cultural heritage’ (非物质文化遗产). Visitors were welcomed to go up, enjoy the view with a cup of tea and listen to the musical performances.
According to the CCTV1 story, an electric stove is at the origin of the disaster.
Weishan 巍山, was nominated in 2006 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is not the first ancient town in China to suffer irretrievable loss by fire. Everyone remembers the blaze which destroyed the ancient town of Shangrila on January 11, 2014 in north Yunnan.
Two weeks later, on January 25, 2014 more than 100 homes in the centuries-old Dong ethnic minority village of Baojing in Guizhou province were turn into ashes.
It’s fortunate that the Weishan fire did not spread from the Gongchen Gate to the rest of the village.
Urbanisation, modernisation, the growth of mass-tourism and the rural exodus has already taken its toll on China’s ancient villages. Although accidents happen, it is always sad to learn the destruction of a structure like the Gongchen Tower.
“Traditional Chinese villages are an integral part of Chinese culture and are supposed to deserve due attention […] The spectacular scenes once described in many Chinese poems should not be sealed in people’s memories.” That’s what vice-minister of Culture reportedly said to the journalist of the China Daily in an article titled “Ancient villages in China demand more effective protection“.
Foreign travellers in China
As a long-term expat, Chinese-speaker and foreign traveller, I have always wondered if and how I could contribute to help and protect in a sustainable manner the amazing cultural and historical relics scattered throughout this continent-sized country.
Fellow travellers in the Middle Kingdom, whenever you find yourself in a historical village, do take a lot of pictures. I am sure one day they’ll be more precious than you think.
Do leave a comment below or contact me.