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China mulls limiting tourist numbers at grotto temples to protect the cultural heritage sites

Photo taken on Oct. 14, 2018 shows the Tianti Mountain Grotto in Wuwei City, northwest China’s Gansu Province. With a history of 1,600 years, the Tianti Mountain Grotto is one of the earliest grottos excavated in China. (Xinhua/Fan Peishen)

China is mulling over controlling the tourist numbers at grotto temples across the country in a bid to relieve the pressure on some grotto temples overloaded with tourists and to protect the cultural heritage sites, according to a document released on Wednesday by China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The authorities asked the scenic spots to calculate and set a reasonable “cap” for tourist numbers in their respective locations. The capacity of various areas should be considered, which includes the core scenic areas, each and every cave, and the platforms in front of caves and walkways. 

The scenic spots should control tourist visits using multiple methods, such as real-time monitoring, making appointments and selling tickets online, encouraging tourists to visit at different time periods, and providing customized services, the document said.

The country’s grotto temples are also encouraged to enhance tourist experiences using technological means; for example, setting up digital museums, building smart parks and providing virtual experiences related to the cultural heritage sites.

The authorities stressed the top priority is oversight in protecting cultural heritage during development, and prohibited excessive commercialization and entertainment of the scenic spots.

The document was released following reports about some grottos — many of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites — being packed with tourists during holiday periods, and large days of tourism causing damage by overloading tourist flow.

Some Buddha statues at the Longmen Grottoes in Central China’s Henan Province, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to ancient statues of Buddha, were found to have become “shiny” from relentless damage caused by tourists touching the statues during the recent National Day holiday in October, as many people believe that patting on the belly of Buddha would bring good blessings to them.

The site has since been forced to install a two-meter high protective fence in front of several of the statues to prevent swarms of tourists from touching, rubbing and patting them.

The new rule received support from Chinese netizens, with many believing that it could ensure sustainable development of the scenic spots while also protecting the heritage of human civilization.

“Such relics are extremely vulnerable to nature and human activities, it is time to limit tourist flow to protect them well,” one netizen commented.

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