Pingyao Initiative ( Draft )
Pingyao Initiative
Concerning the Conservation of Cultural Heritage Towards the Public
(ICOMOS CIAV & ISCEAH 2019 Joint Annual Meeting & International Conference on Vernacular & Earthen Architecture towards Local Development)

“Heritage” first means the goods inherited from the father, mother or ancestors, which evolved as a concept of traditional lineage-based societies. Later, the concept of heritage extended beyond the blood-relationship context to include the national heritage in a much broader territorial scale and even the immaterial legacies of the nation, indicating a concept of common property. In 1970s, UNESCO proposed the expression of “World Heritage” which is of outstanding universal value to promote the mutual understandings between different civilizations around the globe and to ensure their presentation and transmission into the future generations. With the expansion of the concept, “heritage” has been more and more discussed and placed in the public realm.
At the same time, we realize that heritage associated with the history, culture and emotions of the family, community, nation and country, as well as to people’s the daily life and work. In academic world, the heritage conservation discipline has developed beyond history and archeology to interact with anthropology, sociology, human geography, urban-rural planning and architecture. With the expansion of the concept and the increase of protected objects, the range of stakeholders have become diversified and broadened. Scholars and technical professionals alone can no longer sustain the development of heritage in the long run. More social resources and groups should be engaged into this process, and thus the relation between heritage and the general public have been highlighted.
The Athens Charter for the Restoration of Historic Monuments (1931) stated “the best guarantee in the matter of the preservation of monuments and works of art derives from the respect and attachment of the peoples themselves”. The 1987 Charter on the Conservation of Historic Towns and Urban Areas (The Washington Charter) pointed out “the participation and the involvement of the residents are essential for the success of the conservation program … The conservation of historic towns and urban areas concerns their residents first of all”. The Charter on the Built Vernacular Heritage (1999) stressed that “the appreciation and successful protection of the vernacular heritage depend on the involvement and support of the community, continuing use and maintenance”. The ICOMOS Charter for the Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites adopted in 2008 marked the first attempt to discuss the basic principles of interpretation and presentation for public appreciation and understanding of cultural heritage sites. The Valletta Principles for the Safeguarding and Management of Historic Cities, Towns and Urban Areas (2011) proposed that “good governance makes provision for organizing broad orchestration amongst all stakeholders: elected authorities, municipal services, public administrations, experts, professional organizations, voluntary bodies, universities, residents, etc. This is essential for the successful safeguarding, rehabilitation and sustainable development of historic towns and urban areas”. Topics of public participation and education program can also be found in other international documents such as the Convention on the protection of world, cultural and natural heritage (1972) and the Charter of Machu Picchu.
During the International Workshop of Urban and Rural Heritage Conservation and Development in Pingyao from September 2 to 8, international and Chinese experts on cultural heritage conservation and its related areas gathered at the Ancient City of Pingyao to conduct academic exchanges on the conservation, restoration and adaptive use of vernacular architecture, earthen structures and cultural heritage. The participants have agreed that Pingyao`s explorations for the conservation of urban and rural heritage and the economic and social development are valuable experience and cases for the world. Building upon the above international charters and declarations and based on the outcomes following the discussions during this conference, we propose the following Pingyao Initiative for the Conservation of Cultural Heritage towards the Public.

1. The general public is the creator of and the witness to cultural heritage.
Cultural heritage is the tangible and intangible expressions of human history and culture. Originated from the public, cultural heritage and its creator further constitute the elements of a specific historical environment and its cultural representations. Conserving heritage is to protect the unique living and cultural environment of the public as well as their cultural process.
2. The general public is the protector and inheritor of cultural heritage.
To protect cultural heritage is to pass on the essence of human civilizations and enrich the life of present and future generations, which should be built on a widespread recognition among the general public. The better the public understands heritage, the more effective the policies for protection can be employed to supervise the process.
3. Public participation is essential for the conservation of human-inhabited heritage sites (living heritage).
Human-inhabited heritage property (living heritage), represented by the Ancient City of Pingyao and the surrounding villages, serves as a space of people’s daily life. The values of such heritage is presented in a variety of attributes of the vernacular architecture made of earth, timber and masonry which are adaptive to local topography, climate and material, of people’s wisdom applied to the land use, settlement planning, religion and beliefs and traditional crafts, as well as of the unique landscape, local character and genius loci. The daily activities of local people, in particular, characterize the heritage with a distinctive charm and values from other heritage types.
These heritage properties are faced with challenges of physical deterioration, changes of lifestyle, tourism development, declining rural areas, climate change and disaster prevention problems. The conservation of such heritage must not simply focus on the most remarkable buildings representing local character, but also take into account the vernacular buildings closely linked with people’s daily life. The conservation and adaptive use of featured earthen, wooden and masonry vernacular architecture, which enables the improvement of living environment and the protection and continuity of folk wisdoms, requires full participation of the general public.


4. The residential function of human-inhabited heritage should be maintained as far as possible and favorable conditions and sound facilities be created to ensure the wellbeing and livelihood of people. 

We should focus on doing the following work closely related to the residents:

To retain or set up education, medical, sports, business, community services-related facilities in proportion to the size of local population, and to provide corresponding policy support;
To establish long-term conservation and management plans of residential buildings based on property ownerships, to formulate conservation guidelines and subsidy policies, and to guide residents' daily management in line with the requirements of heritage protection;
To research the planning and construction of modern infrastructures that are adapted to the requirements of heritage conservation and the life needs;
To research technical means to ensure the protection of cultural heritage and public safety, such as techniques and means for the prevention of fire, earthquake, flood and water logging.
To research technical methods to protect and reuse featured local vernacular buildings made of earth, wood and stone;
To research systems and policies related to the development of heritage protection, cultural tourism and rural revitalization industries, as well as to the employment of local residents.
5. Specific and effective daily management mechanisms should be established and capacity building schemes provided.
To establish a daily management system targeting the management of files, conservation, business, community, tourism and disaster prevention, and to provide relevant technical assistance and policy support to stakeholders;
To establish a specialized local administration and effectively allocate human resources, and to carry out capacity buildings through long-term education and training program on cultural heritage conservation.

6. A long-term mechanism should be designed and established for public participation, accompanied with corresponding legal and policy support.
The public consists of local residents, businesses, communities and other stakeholders, as well as experts, professional organizations, the media, volunteer groups, universities and others general public in a broader sense. The rights of these individuals and entities should be fully respected in the process of conserving cultural heritage, which shall also assume respective responsibilities. It is vital to mobilize the members of the public and formulate sound interactions with one and another for a rational, normative and mature mechanism that enables effective public participation in the long run
7. The bottom-up initiatives to protect heritage by residents and communities should be encouraged and supported, with a respect of the values and demands they express for themselves.
The protection of cultural heritage and the life of local residents are interrelated. The residents play a key role in protecting local cultural heritage by identifying problems and solutions timely, which is more driven by the public appreciation of heritage values, people’s participation awareness in heritage protection, a high degree of local autonomy and the increase of other intrinsic motivations of the community. At the same time, the reality and difficulties should be full considered for the design of specific policies and technical solutions to deal with conflicts between heritage conservation and the improvement of living environment, enabling the establishment of a long-term public-private partnership.
8. Diversified tools of public participation should be employed in the process of heritage protection to ensure the levels of involvement at each stage.
It is necessary to develop and enrich existing tools of public participation, including interviews and survey to solicit inputs, public hearings, public comments, trainings, orientations, exhibitions, information hotlines, visits and inquiries, and to encourage the participation of cultural heritage workshops and the festive event of heritage day among the public to formulate a set of toolkit that are feasible and effective in practice. It is also important to incorporate public participation into the whole process from the identification and the interpretation of heritage property, the formulation of conservation plans and policies, and implementation of management, where public inputs are constantly informed and a feedback and supervisory mechanism is set up timely.
9. The essential role of the “third party” should be increased with full engagement of experts, professional organizations, volunteer groups and universities.
As the bridge between government and the general public, the “third party” represents the most influential force in heritage conservation. On the one hand, it breaks the top-down protection approach and engages in the public governance to supervise and improve the government decision-making; on the other hand, it organizes people and expands the participatory channels to enhance the capacity and efficiency of public participation. Thanks to its neutrality in the term of interests and strong social influence, the third party can act as a major pusher and organizer for the protection of heritage.


Adopted in Pingyao on September 8, 2019



  • International Council on Monuments and Sites- International Committee on Vernacular Architecture (ICOMOS-CIAV)
  • International Council on Monuments and Sites- International Scientific Committee on Earthen Architectural Heritage (ICOMOS-ISCEAH)
  • Chinese National Committee for the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS CHINA)
  • World Heritage Institute of Training and Research for the Asia and the Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO (WHITRAP Shanghai)
  • The Academic Committee of Historical and Cultural City Planning, the Urban Planning Society of China (ACHCCP-UPSC)
  • Committee of Urban and Rural Built Heritage-ASC (CURBH-ASC)
  • Tongji University, CHINA

Academic Supporting Partners

  • Urban Planning Society of China
  • Architectural Society of China
  • Heritage Architecture
  • Built Heritage


  • Shanghai Tongji Urban Planning & Design InstituteCO.,LTD.
  • Tongji Architectural Design (Group) Co., Ltd.(TJAD)


  • Pingyao County CPC Committee
  • Pingyao County People’s Government




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