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The first Luanhe River Cultural Festival kicked off in Luanxian County, nearby Tangshan in Hebei Province on October 12, to commemorate the city's history, which is largely unknown to people today.

The first Luanhe River Cultural Festival kicked off in Luanxian County, nearby Tangshan in Hebei Province on October 12, to commemorate the city's history, which is largely unknown to people today.

Invited by the local government, historians, cultural scholars and artists from across the country assembled in Luanxian for the festival and discussed how to develop local cultural heritage and tourism resources.

The history of Luanxian reaches back to about 3,000 years ago. The ancient Chinese established Luanzhou (the former name of Luanxian) and thrived there because of the Luanhe River, which starts in west Hebei Province and flows into the Bohai Sea. Therefore, people regard Luanhe River as the mother river of their local civilization.

As a land-water transport hub in China, Luanxian attracted tens of thousands of merchants to do business there and enjoyed a reign of prosperity for nearly 1,000 years. Also, both farming and nomadic cultures converged in this area along the Luanhe River, which contributed to a brilliant multi-cultural environment in the county.

With abundant mineral resources, Luanxian has been an economic and transport hub in east Hebei Province since the late 19th century. But the county has decided to reclaim its former glory through regeneration. Instead of relying on its industrial power, the county will explore its cultural heritage and develop leisure tourism featuring local traditions.

Balanced development

Luanxian has achieved rapid industrial growth since 1978. In recent years, the county has established six economic parks and several industry chains, such as metal refining, equipment manufacturing, agriculture and services.

Sijiaying iron ore mine—the second largest iron ore mine of Asia located 10 km south of the county, was put into production in 2008, and became an important pillar of the local economy. By the end of 2010, the GDP of the county had reached 26.2 billion yuan ($4.12 billion), which ranked 17th at the county level in Hebei Province.

However, the Luanxian people won't rely only on nonrenewable resources for future development. The heavy industry has polluted the environment. Locals realize that there should be a balance between economic growth and environmental protection. Luanxian also has huge potential to develop and promote its immense traditional cultural treasures.

"We have to develop with both feet—one is the established industrial sector, and the other is culture and tourism, because economic growth cannot be sustained by exploiting ore mines forever," Lu said. The booming cultural sector and tourism sector can boost local urbanization, raise the image of the county and improve the quality of the people's livelihoods," said Lu.

Sustainable future

As part of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), Luanxian has made a plan to support local cultural projects and improve tourist facilities to realize sustainable development. Some of the scheme's projects are already under construction.

Luanxian has adopted a market-based approach to developing its tangible and intangible cultural heritages under the guidance of the local government. For example, Chuxiong Huitong Co. Ltd., a real-estate company of Yunnan Province, signed a contract with the county government to rebuild ancient Luanzhou city. Upon completion, a scenic complex with traditional Chinese architecture, covering 133.3 hectares and containing key historic sites, such as the ancient gate tower, county office building typical to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), a bell tower and a drum tower. All the buildings will be built as they were during the Qing Dynasty.

"The company plans to invest 5 billion yuan ($787.5 million) in the project," said Wu Yusheng, the contractor of the ancient city project. "Our company has completed several tourism projects including restoration projects across the country, achieving success for local tourism industries."

Huitong has also restored ancient towns in Yunnan in southwest China. One project for the Yi ethnic people, which was finished in 2005, has become the tourism backbone in the city of Chuxiong, said Wu.

The Luanxian Government is cooperating with Huitong because of its rich experience on developing tourism resources featuring traditional culture and ancient architecture.

The ancient city project, which was started in April 2010, is scheduled to be completed in 2015. It is not only a restoration of traditional architectures but also a comprehensive tourism complex, including a residential quadrangle courtyards, shops, restaurants, pubs, hotels and conference centers. Tourists will find everything in this district that they would need for a historic and relaxing experience.

Skyscrapers, quadrangle courtyards and a beautiful river bank area will complement the renewed Luanxian by combining ancient architecture with modern infrastructure.

The county has also launched an extensive program of rebuilding and redecorating heritage sites. For instance, the Wenfeng Pagoda was first built on the top of Yanshan Mountain near Luanzhou in 947 during the Liao Dynasty (916-1125). But the ancient tower was damaged in the Tangshan Earthquake in 1976. The pagoda was eventually rebuilt in 2009. Standing atop the hill, people can enjoy a bird's eye view over the county and Luanhe River.

In addition to the tourism resources, the county is located near the arterial traffic highways and railways that link Beijing, Tangshan and northeast China, which is an advantage to develop tourism and the service industry. Statistics released by the county government shows that 1.38 million tourists that have visited Luanxian in the first 10 months of 2011. As a mid-way station, millions of tourists may stop at Luanxian for a short stay during holidays every year, which will provide a needed boost to the local tourist industry.

By 2015, the annual number of tourists in the county is expected to increase to 4 million. The annual tourism income is expected to exceed 1.5 billion yuan ($236.4 million) which will account for over 10 percent of its GDP, said Lu.

Culture is key

On the opening day of the Luanhe River Cultural Festival, the Research Center of the Luanhe River Culture was founded, aiming to protect and promote traditional cultural heritage. The river flows through 27 cities and counties, but Luanxian is the only one that dedicates funds to the study of the traditional culture along the waterway.

"Without a prosperous cultural sector, a city won't have its own spirit no matter how big it is," said Lu. In fact, Luanxian is the hometown of many arts and crafts, such as Pingju Opera (a local opera of north and northeast China), shadow play and paper cutting. These arts and crafts typically represent the characteristics of the Luanhe River area as civilization spread from inland areas to the northeast in ancient times. Such art forms were enriched by the local people.

Luanxian has built museums and repaired historic sites to preserve its intangible culture heritage in recent years. For example, local museums have a collection of more than 1,000 pieces of cultural works and historic relics. And a cultural park in the county also presents 100 historic figures and stories of the area through statues and murals.

Today, Luanxian is making efforts to boost its cultural and tourism sectors. For the people of Luanxian, only by transforming the intangible heritage into a durable impetus will the county embrace sustainable development and a bright future.

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