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Beijing Zhongkun Investment Group

Moving Forward While Saving the Past

Beijing Zhongkun Investment Group Co., Ltd, believes in the importance of honoring and preserving China’s culture and heritage at the same time as the country promotes a new model of sustainable urbanization. In 1997, Zhongkun set up its Anhui Province subsidiary, Huangshan Jingyi Tourism Development Co., Ltd., thereby beginning a journey of conservation development of ancient villages dating back to the Ming Dynasty.

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Zhongkun’s Hong Village in Anhu province (© Zhongkun)

 

The initial focus was Hong Village, whose ancient buildings, with magnificent brick and wood carving, had fallen into dangerous disrepair. The following decade saw Zhongkun contributing significantly to the sustainable conservation and development of Anhui Province’s ancient villages and the traditional culture they embody, through conservation development of sites such as Anhui Nanping village, where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Ju Dou were filmed, Anhui Guanlu conjoined village, Anhui Tongcheng City, the Xinjiang Kashgar High-platform Folk Houses (the origin of earth ware arts), and Zhaitang, an ancient town west of Beijing. Altogether, these projects add up to more than one million square kilometers.

Conservation of Local Heritage

When protecting buildings and infrastructure, Zhongkun spares no effort in the protection of intangible cultural heritage, such as the local community’s ways life and production, and its historical and cultural memory.

In Hong Village, Zhongkun adopted a strategy of ‘conservation before development’, established a rigorous preservation and development plan, and developed a three-party cooperative mechanism with local authorities and communities. Massive funding ensured the strict implementation of the plan. As a result, more than 10,000 residential buildings and over 50 unique ancestral halls and memorial archways have been preserved, maintained and restored.

The company first established plans based on a ‘conservation before development’ strategy. The first project that Zhongkun conducted at the Hong Village was to invite heritage building preservation experts from Tsinghua University and Tongji University to conduct field studies, and jointly develop the Hong Village Preservation and Development Plan. Instead of short-term commercial profit objectives, Zhongkun approached Hong Village with a focus on science, historical and cultural perspectives, and humanity. Hong Village is today recognized as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO.

For several years, the Hong Village has seen no new construction or remodeling. Roadwork was also carried out; 70% of the surface areas have been repaired and renovated. River de-silting work was also completed; surrounding mountains were closed for reforestation; and water supply infrastructures were built. These all led to an improved environment in the village.

Third, the company invested in the preservation and repair of ancient buildings, strictly following the preservation plan. Each year, 20% of the Hong Village’s entrance ticket sales was be designated for the maintenance and preservation of the heritage buildings, including 600 folk houses, unique buildings such as 3 ancestral halls, and 8 ancestral halls in the Nanping village. Additionally, direct spending by Zhongkun in maintenance amounts to over 14 million yuan annually.

Culture and Customs

Avoiding the common practice of relocating the local people, we chose to keep them where they were, so that they could enjoy new prosperity, while keeping their traditional customs. We encouraged the villagers to work in their traditional wood, brick and stone carving handicraft business, to sell local specialties such as tea leaves, to do their laundry by the river, and to dry vegetables in their round baskets, so that they can earn incomes while displaying their way of life. Due to this measure, some of the young residents who left the Hong village returned, inadvertently prolonging the life of the wood-structure buildings.

Sustainable Development of the Local Economy

Conservation and use of ancient villages such as the Hong Village have promoted the growth of the local economy and increased the incomes for the local people. The company operates in harmony with the local authorities and communities and we develop together with mutual support.

Hong Village has become a model for tourism development of ancient villages across China, and the Yi County also has become one of the top tourism counties in China. At the end of the 2013 season, the Hong Village received 1.5 million visitors, with ticket sales reaching 78 million Yuan. The number of local people working in tourism grew from 300 in 1997 to 33,000 in 2013, which is an annual growth of 700%. In 2008, the per capita disposable income was less than 12,000 Yuan, whereas in 2012, this surpassed 20,000 Yuan, a 67% increase over the four years. The per capita net income grew 78%, from 5,000 Yuan in 2008 to 8,900 Yuan in 2012.

Continuous Innovation

To achieve the sustainable development goals for the projects that Zhongkun invested in, innovative products and services are needed to meet long-term market needs. Zhongkun is shifting from a traditional ‘resources plus hotel and lodging’ tourism developer to a provider of optimized vacation services, integrating culture, leisure and consumption.

That is, to innovatively integrate Zhongkun’s resources and products, leveraging the mindset and technology of the Internet to build a new optimized vacation services system, including: site system, outdoor carnivals, cultural carnivals, hotels and resorts, vacation clubhouses, vineyards, art museum, music halls, galleries, tourism operators’ system, tourist transportation system, unique vacation services, and unique vacation commodities.

Lessons

In terms of preservation and development of old villages, Zhongkun created an innovative model for tourism and vacation to villages. Based on the principle of sustainable development, our work focused on five aspects, including the preservation of old village buildings, transmission and protection of the local culture, preserving the indigenous people’s ways of life, driving the development of the local economy and employment, and developing innovative tourism products. This ensured that business, government and local residents are all winners, while resources in old villages have been protected, promoting the transition of the local agricultural economy. This sustainable development model has gained recognition in the marketplace and has become an example of rural tourism.