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Inside the Belt and Road - China and Italy

The Silk Road, originated in ancient China’s Western Han period (202 B.C – A.D 8), started from Chang’an (now Xi’an) and connected many countries in Asia, Europe, and Africa, and finally arrived in ancient Rome. The Silk Road’s initial role was to transport China’s silk, porcelain, and other products to the other countries, but it gradually plays a role in the cultural, political, and economic communications between different countries. On March 23, 2019, Italy signed China’s New Silk Road project. Through thousands of years’ communication, China and Italy have built strong ties over various facets. Archaeology is one of the closest bonds. The archaeological and cultural cooperation between Italy and China have created innovative and surprising breakthroughs. 

In 1993, the Italian government granted $3,800,000 to the Chinese government, and it was mainly used to build the Xi’an Antique Protect Recovery Center, the first modernized antique protect and recovery center in China. The design of this center was referred to ICR (Central Institute of Restoration) in Rome, which is the ISCR (High Institute for Conservation and Restoration) now. The multidisciplinary system in Italy has been stable and harmonious since very early. When the Xi’an Antique Protect Recovery Center planned to train students for future archaeology’s heritage, more than 50 Italian experts arrived at the training center, and Italy also aided abundant advanced equipment to the center. As a result, this center successfully cultivated valuable experts who would actively facilitate the antique protection around the world.

Zhan Changfa is one who made great contributions on promoting Italian antique protection’s cooperation with China. In 1987, an antique protection representative team arrived at China firstly. It was from Italy, and there were three experts in the team: Roberto Ciara, Mario Micheli, and Giuseppe Moro. Zhan Changfa helped them as an English translator. In 1988, Zhan passed tests and went to Italy for training and study. After struggling in language learning, cultural differences, and new concepts and theories, Zhan worked very hard in repairing oil paintings. Finally, he entered into ICR at that time accompanied by scholarships. He actively took part in student conferences and communicated with the embassy and the Italian government. These all helped him with the Italian government’s grants to China’s training project later. In 1995, he brought the grants back to China and worked as Xi’an Antique Protect Recovery Center’s vice Engineer. In the following years, Zhan is committed to cultivate new experts, facilitate global cooperation on archaeology, and spread the importance of cultural heritage to the new generation. Due to his hard work, in 2005, he gained Ordine della Stella d'Italia, and he is also the person who was rewarded in China’s cultural heritage conservation field. In 2015, he assumed the vice president of the Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage.Zhan in TraniZhan Changfa worked in Trani, Italy in 1990

In addition, Zhan is the first person who translated and introduced Cesare Brandi’s Teoria del Restauro into China. He thinks: repairing the antiques should “minimize the intervention” and “keep the original feature”, rather than “make it look old”. “In the science of protecting and repairing antiques, we should try our best to present the antiques’ whole creating and evolving process, but no to show a static object or result only”, stated by Zhan. Moreover, he said: “In Brandi’s Teoria del Restauro, he mentions that “repairing the antiques is a process of judgment”. The so-called judgment process is also an evaluation process. The meaning of this sentence is that repairing antiques needs to make it have identification and time’s characteristics. The antiques we repair should be able to let our future generations identify which repairing is done by this time’s us. Only if we do not hurt the antique’s structure and longevity, historical antiques could be repaired by using modern artistry and materials. This is also to respect the scientific fact’s beginning and ending point. A true historical researcher could see the texture from an antique because it is not just a utensil, it is a live history. When we repair the antiques, it is not complete yet to finish the repairing, but we must pass them down to our future generations. Things we do now must leave their traces, this is a kind of heritage, and this is the true meaning of repairing.” In Zhan’s opinion, it reflects an innovative and modern theory on conserving cultural heritage. He aims at instilling new thoughts and inspires a new wave in China’s antiques conservation field.DazuDazu stone carving of Thousand-hand Bodhisattva in China

Collaboration between China and Italy is excitingly ongoing.

In 2007, the first antique conservation project was built by China and Italy -- Dazu's stone carving conservation Center.

In 2016, China's Shanxi historical museum signed a cooperation contract with Italy's ISCR.

In 2019, an academic seminar about cultural heritage's conservation was held in China's Shanghai, many countries' representatives made presentations about their new conservation technologies. Professor Mario Micheli from Rome made a report about "the origin and evolution of archaeological metal antiques' conservation and repairing". The Belt and Road have been connecting the world closely while every member of it is also influencing and changing each other. We will make an impact and evolve toward a better road. If you would like to witness our progress, we will see you later.

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