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15th General Assembly,
Xi’an, China, October 2005

William Moss - Report

A delegation of twenty-two ICOMOS Canada members attended the 15th General Assembly in Xi’an, China from October 13 to 22, 2005. We  were among over 650 delegates from 85 different countries and 300  delegates from within China as well as many  corporate members representatives (Getty Foundation, World Bank, etc.). Our delegation’s principal objective was the observation and analysis of the General Assembly in order to facilitate planning for the 16th General Assembly to be held in Québec City from September 27 to October 5, 2008.

Given the status of our delegation as the organizer’s of the next General Assembly, we were accorded special attention by the Xi’an organizing committee. We thus had a privileged view of the event from both inside and out. Special events organized specifically for our group included a private reception hosted by the Municipality of Xi’an, complete with lavish gifts, exquisite cuisine and copious libations!

Information collected about the organization of the event touched on logistics (70 full-time employees in the months preceding the event, 250 during the event, over 250 elegantly-dressed volunteers during the assembly), finances (a budget of US$4 million), organization (permanent committee comprised of representatives of five government departments and the municipal government as well as the ICOMOS staff in Paris). We were able to observe highly sensitive operations such as protocol, security, voting, simultaneous translation and relations with the media. Twenty-two pairs of eyes and ears observed and analyzed special events (spectacles, exhibitions, banquets, visits, tours, signage and publicity). Visits included the Terra-cotta Warriors Museum (visited by over 30,000,000 people annually, including 6,000,000 foreigners); the Hanyuan Hall of the Daming Palace from the Tang Dynasty (a 3.7 sq. km. archaeological site); and the Exhibition Hall of the Yangling Mausoleum of the Han Dynasty (a 20 sq. km. archaeological site). Special notice was taken of specially designed signage (billboards, banners, posters, balloons) placed around the city and on major arteries used by our police-escorted cortege of buses! In short, the delegation found the trip personally rewarding and professionally enriching. It was an essential step in the planning process for 2008.

The scientific symposium – 171 presentations on the general theme of “Monuments and sites in their setting: conserving cultural heritage in changing townscapes and landscapes” – was divided into four workshops: “Defining the setting of monuments and sites: the significance of tangible and intangible cultural and natural qualities”; “Vulnerabilities within the settings of monuments and sites: understanding the threats and defining appropriate responses”; “Evolving townscapes and landscapes within their settings: managing dynamic change”; and “Cultural routes: the challenges of linear settings for monuments and sites”. The conference proceedings are available on the ICOMOS website: www.international.icomos.org/xian2005/papers.htm.

The assembly was particularly important because of the adoption of the Xi’an Declaration on the Conservation of the Setting of Heritage Structures, Sites and Areas, a statement of principles and recommendations for this complex matter. The Declaration is comprised of 13 statements addressing five groups of questions: the acknowledgement of the contribution of setting to the significance of heritage monuments; the understanding, documentation and interpretation of setting in diverse contexts; the development of planning tools and practices to conserve and manage settings; monitoring of changes affecting settings; and, finally, working with local, interdisciplinary and international communities for co-operation and awareness in conserving and managing settings. This is a welcome addition to ICOMOS’ tool-kit of doctrines. The full text of the Declaration can be downloaded from the ICOMOS website at www.international.icomos.org/xian2005/xian-declaration.htm.

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The Minister of Culture singing his own composition praising ICOMOS at the closing ceremony. (Photo : Robin Letellier)

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