The southeast part of Shanxi Province in China is a region with the highest concentration of early timber structures in the country, among which a majority are located in rural and semi-rural religious spaces. Social changes regarding rural population, religious demography as well as the ‘heritagisation’ process of these places of worship have presented unprecedented challenges to their long-term survival. A national campaign, the Southern Project, which lasted from 2005–2015 has facilitated a series of restoration projects in this region, covering 105 national heritage sites with pre-Yuan Dynasty structures, yet their maintenance, management and sustainable functions remain uncertain despite their improved ‘physical’ health. It also raises the question of how these (former) places of worship can be integrated into contemporary society. By analysing the data collected through reviews of the relevant legislative and administrative system and policies, interviews with various stakeholder groups, as well as on-site observations in the case region, this paper aims to identify not only the observable challenges in the long-term sustainability of religious heritage sites, but also the underlying issues situated in China’s heritage management mechanisms and systems behind, in order to pave the way for further discussions of a sustainable way forward.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited