BEIJING, June 14 (Xinhua) -- With Chinese Cultural Heritage Day on Saturday, the difficulty of restoring religious wall paintings has become a national focus of attention.
Fengguo Temple of the northeastern province of Liaoning's Yixian County is one of only three surviving temples dating back to the Liao period (916-1125), after which the province is named. There are 20 buddhist murals in the main temple and much of the artwork has been worn away by time.
The restoration was approved by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage in 2000 but, so far, nothing has been done, said Wang Fei, head of heritage management in the county.
"The works have flaked and cracked after years of deterioration due to temperature, moisture, and dust in the air," he said.
Wang's department has examined the paintings many times, but most experts have shied away from the restoration, pleading that the scale of the work is beyond their capacity. No organization in Liaoning is qualified and willing to carry out the work.
The paintings are exemplars of high artistic values with rich historical connotations, and many such works in China suffer from degradation due to the natural environment and development of tourism.
There is a huge gulf between the need for restoration and the talent pool in China. Worse still, some works have even been destroyed by botched attempts to save them.
Last October, restoration in Yunjie Temple in Liaoning's Chaoyang City outraged critics and public alike with cartoon qualities more appropriate to Disney than the Buddha. The restoration was not approved and was carried out by amateurs. New paint was applied directly on top of the original and is of a totally different subject. Pictures were posted online and appalled critics said there is no way to restore the original.
Li Xiangdong, deputy head of cultural heritage in Liaoning tells of how the province has 128 national and more than 400 provincial cultural heritage sites, but only five qualified preservation and restoration organizations.
Li Shengneng, deputy head of the Shenyang Palace Museum is well aware that restorations require considerable effort and are time consuming projects.
"Failures are intolerable in restoration of historical artifacts, and lead to the disappearance of history," Li said. "It takes a long time for one to master the techniques. Older professionals are retiring, and there are nowhere near enough young people to take their place."
The authorities are working to improve the situation. In July 2009, a research center for the protection of the these kinds of works was launched by Dunhuang Research Academy, the first national research center for fresco restoration.