Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Shaolin Temple, an ancient Zen Buddhist monastery and cradle of martial art kung fu, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The decision was taken during the 34th meeting of the special committee of UNESCO in Brasilia, on 1 August, which stated that the historic building is of great artistic beauty and is an important historical and cultural centre.
The monastery on Mount Songshan at Dengfeng in central Henan province, is composed of 11 main buildings, including the Shaolin Temple itself the Observatory, Songyang Academy, Taishi Towers and Zhongyue Temple. It has stood for over two thousand years and its structures show the successive styles of ancient China. Moreover it is a testament to the history of the old Chinese religion, but also philosophy, customs and scientific development of the country.
Shaolin temple's abbot Shi Yongxin said the UNESCO recognition was a privilege. "For the monks, living in a world-recognised heritage site is a wonderful experience, but at the same time, our responsibility to protect the temple becomes even graver," he said. "I'm also looking forward to the addition of Shaolin kung fu into UNESCO's intangible heritage list," Shi added.
The temple management in recent years has been widely criticized for having turned it into a tourism phenomenon, with inspired performances of martial arts that travel the world but with little attention to tradition and religion.
Local authorities are especially attentive to the implications of this recognition. Zhu Jianping, director of the Tourist Office of Dengfeng, said visits will now be more organized and there will be more guided tours.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site list has also included China’s Danxia landform. The landform groups six natural mountainous areas in different provinces on a single platform, whose core extends for 73,945 hectares and is considered an exemplary specimen of geomorphology in China, such as Langhsan and Wanfoshan mountains (Hunan) and Mount Danxiashan (Guangdong). There are now 40 Chinese monuments and sites of natural beauty on this special list. UNESCO has also praised China as the country that has made the most progress in protecting these places.