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  Culture Journals - Silk Road Journeys
  Issue No. 2 : Cultural Chasms
I have been busy in the past six months leading prominent Hong Kong on journeys of discovery and enlightenment down the Silk Road. An increasing number of scholarly bodies and historical institutions are interested in research on the ancient route, and businessmen make the trip with an eye for investment.
Lee Shau-kee and Henry Fok came as representatives of the Peihua Education Foundation, of which they are chairman and vice-chairman respectively. In Dunhuang, Gansu province, we were able to visit a new cave site developed by Zhang Kar-huang, son of the legendary Zhang Shau-hung who, as the first director of the Dunhuang Research Institute, studied and helped to open up the Mogao Grottoes 50 years ago. The new cave, which contains 15 grottoes, was discovered by excavating through two levels of bedrock from a base on the banks of the Tong river. Although the excavation was perfected by Japanese and German structural engineers I was a little nervous when we entered the tunnel, fearful that the roof would come tumbling down! 
Lee Shau-kee showed great interest in the Buddhist scriptures in Dunhuang. He took notes as we toured the caves and other places of historical interest. Both he and fellow Hong Kong entrepreneur Walter Kwok expressed interest in funding development and tourist projects in the area. Shau-kee is considering supporting the new caves and has plans to build a golf course, while Walter, who owns a small light-plane firm in Hong Kong, would lie to start a charter plane service there.
Light aircraft are certainly the way to see the Silk Road sites. Kar-huang and I took to the skies for a bird's eye view of Dunhuang it was an amazing sight and we were able to get some wonderful photographs of the desert landscape. From the air I noted that the land adjacent to the Silk Road Dunhuang hotel has been parceled off for development. When I started to build the hotel eight years ago, there was nothing there but desert; not even a road. Now man is encroaching on this part of the Gobi desert in a big way. But seeing the vast expanse of land from the air, one also realises how precarious man's effort is to conquer the desert. Oases are established slowly and painstakingly over the years, but then a huge sand storm may blow across the land, destroy all the settlements and send man scurrying back to square one.
There is much for the visitor to admire in Dunhuang - beautiful murals, valuable scrolls, cultural treasures in abundance. But unlike other remnants of ancient civilizations such as Egypt and Rome, Dunhuang lacks an architectural presence. No old buildings remain. In this part of China, dwellings were made of wood and sand, not stone, and they fell into ruin at the end of the Ming dynasty when the emperor pulled back the frontier 300 kilometres to Jiayuguan. Dunhuang was isolated and the desert claimed it. 
My latest project is to revive period buildings from the glory days of Dunhuang - from the Han, Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties. We will build a "five dynasties" cultural city in the desert, so visitors can appreciated the whole spectrum of architecture, art and culture in ancient China. I have approval from the local government and preparation work is underway. It will be a five-year project, set over 2,500 acres to the southwest of the hotel. I hope these will become heritage monuments many years after we are all gone.
Attracted by the Chinese government's plans for its western region, Hong Kong businessman Vincent Lo, Harry Chow, chairman of the Presidents' Association of Taiwan, and Japanese shipping tycoon Uyeno Takashi went with me to see the developments first hand. After appreciating the treasures of Dunhuang, we headed north to my hotel in Turpan, Xinjiang province. We encountered the first snow falls of winter but pressed on, eager to see the development area of Nanshan. We resorted to travelling on horseback but after our guide told us stories of man-attacking bears and snow leopards we decided caution was the safer part of valour and turned back.
The Chinese government plans to develop mountainous Nanshan into a winter resort on a par with the skiing playgrounds of Korea, Japan, Europe or North America. I could see that the picturesque ranges would make excellent ski runs, but I preferred not to think of them littered with gondolas. It would be better to keep the mountains wild for adventure travellers who wish to visit on horseback (bears and leopards not withstanding) like the native Kasaks do. The area is also attracting industrialists as a pipeline is being built (the Hong Kong & China Gas Company has expressed its intention to participate) to transport gas from Xinjiang to Shanghai. It is vital that good dialogue is maintained with the government to ensure environmental and cultural protection as economic development sweeps through the region. 
In Dunhuang, the government has realised the importance of maintaining a balance between development and conservation, but in Xinjiang they are lagging behind in this respect. The local leadership is still getting to grips with the value of preserving and promoting indigenous culture. One small but significant step is now being taken in Urumqi, where consent has been given after massive downtown development to preserve the old ethnic residential area of the city. Surrounded by a curtain of high-rise buildings, these historic dwellings now have a chance to remain undisturbed for future generations to learn from and admire.
Throughout the Silk Road region, I am trying to impress upon the authorities the importance of such conservation work. Vienna, Venice and the German castles stand as grand testaments to the efforts of European preservationists. Soon I hope we can say the same about China's cultural and architectural wonder. 


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