Chengde's official name, the Imperial Summer Mountain Resort, belies the important political functions it served for two centuries, as well as its role in China's international relations in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was to Chengde—lying beyond the Great Wall of China 115 miles north of Beijing—that the Manchu emperors of China's Qing dynasty retreated during the hot summer months. Founded in 1703 by Emperor Kangxi, it was completed by his grandson Qianlong in 1792.

The colossal site is ringed by a seven-mile wall, within which is a mountainous area and a largely artificial landscape of lakes and parkland, with complexes of pavilions located at the emperor's favorite scenic spots. Immediately outside the wall are eight temples, including a scaled-down version of the Potala in Tibet.

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In the early 20th century when the 300-year-old Qing empire collapsed, Chengde was abandoned. Decades of turmoil, occupation, and civil war followed. Chengde remained in disrepair until the 1970s, and few visitors to China knew of its existence. Now on the World Heritage List, sections of the resort have recently undergone extensive restoration. As tourism to China continues to expand, Chengde is in need of a plan to guide its future use and conservation.

The GCI and the Chengde Cultural Relics Bureau (CCRB) are applying the China Principles—national guidelines for the conservation and management of cultural heritage sites in China—at two significant building complexes at the resort. The China Principles, developed by China's State Administration for Cultural Heritage (SACH) and the GCI, in collaboration with the Australian Heritage Commission (see Conservation, vol. 16, no. 2), were formally approved at Chengde in September 2000, under the auspices of China ICOMOS and with the approval of SACH.

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The buildings selected for implementation following the Principles methodology are the Wenjin Library and the Shuxiang Temple. The Wenjin Library is located within the walls of the resort. This royal library, one of seven in China, housed books compiled under the supervision of the court. Currently, parts of the complex are used as studios by local artists. The Shuxiang Temple, constructed in 1774, is based on the Manjusri Temple in Mount Wutai, Shanxi Province. It was the only temple at Chengde to house Manchu lamas, and it was also known as the family temple of the Qing court. Only three of the original buildings remain: the gate, the main temple, and a small pavilion (recently restored by the CCRB) behind the main temple.

Preliminary work was done in 2001 on a draft master plan for the site as a whole. In May and October 2002, the CCRB, the GCI, and the Australian Heritage Commission developed the plan further. Using the analytical assessments and decision-making process of the China Principles, the collaborative team is determining the approach to conservation, restoration, visitor management, future use, and the technical and research issues that need to be addressed. Upon final approval by SACH, the CCRB will progressively implement the plan over a 10-year period. As part of the strategy to ensure widespread adoption of the China Principles, the approved master plan for the Summer Resort of Chengde will be disseminated by SACH to provincial and municipal bureaus to serve as a national model for the preparation and structure of site plans. The project is expected to be completed by 2005, when China ICOMOS hosts the International Congress of ICOMOS.