China has perhaps the richest historical and cultural assets of any nation on the planet. Yet so much of the tourism is done wrong. Far from preserving cultural assets, the goal of much "historical restoration" seems to be to make it as cheesy as possible.

Ornaments similar to what you would find in an American Wal-Mart adorning a Confucian Temple in Nanjing.

When I visit a historical site, I want to see what made the place famous, see the history, understand what happened, explore the ruins, or whatever. This is getting harder to do in China as the experience is ruined by tackiness. The Confucian Temple above is a prime example. Instead of adding a new layer of paint to the walls or restoring old statues, the temple gardens were adorned with tacky models and statues and had muzak-pop playing in the background. And at every gate there were people selling trinkets, little gold cards with an image of the site embossed on the face.

Trinkets for sale, trinkets for sale.

As spectacular as some of the sites are in China, many historical locations have been intentionally destroyed and rebuilt with steel and concrete. If you return to the Yunan Province page and look at some of the enormous structures in Dali, many are in fact brand new, having been rebuilt with concrete and steel. It was bad enough when this was national policy during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, but the mindset exists today as well: better to tear down and start again than restore what exists.

And yet more trinkets.

Its bewildering. Heirabbit theorized that the problem is a lack of "cultural leadership." China's elite class has been expelled, exterminated, or "reeducated" in the traumas of the 20th century, and refined taste and class left with them. The nouveau riche of today are essentially peasants who got lucky. And like Kaplan's comment regarding hygiene and civil society, taste and class fall into the same category. The China of today does not yet know how to appreciate historical sites.

On to the next entry...

AUDIO TRACK: Chinese muzak recorded in Lijiang.

c. 2006