Just days after the floods, the State Council, China’s cabinet, released a circular on protecting cultural relics and promoting sci-tech innovation during the 14th Five Year Plan (2021-2025) on November 8.
According to the circular, the country is expected to increase the number of archaeologists and relics conservationists by expanding university programs.
In 2022, to mark International Museum Day on May 18, Shanxi University announced it is separating its archaeology and relics conservation courses from the university’s School of History and Culture. The newly established School of Archaeology is expected to enroll 600 full-time students over the next five years. Half will study archaeology and the other conservation.
In an interview with NewsChina, Li Jun, a leading archaeologist at Shanxi University, said that among all the province’s universities, archaeology courses are only offered at Shanxi University. However, over the past few decades, most archaeology undergrads choose to pursue graduate degrees in the country’s top 39 universities in more prosperous coastal cities. As a result, few returned to Shanxi, and even fewer worked in grass-roots institutions.
“Students from poverty-stricken families are more likely to keep working in counties. But others may choose to leave,” Li Jun said.
The expanded enrollment aims to change this trend. All 600 students will receive full scholarships before their five-year assignments with local institutes. Liu Gang, a human resources official at the Shanxi provincial cultural heritage agency, said the province would earmark more funding for training and research for them. Those who fail to serve the full five years will pay back the cost, plus penalties.
Another way of improving cultural heritage preservation and research is more training for those at grass-roots agencies. In an article for the State-run Guangming Daily in March 2021, Zhang Jianwei, vice dean of the School of Archaeology and Museology, Peking University, called for more cooperation between universities and grass-roots agencies. He noted successful training sessions in grotto protection and research through joint programs with his school and cultural heritage authorities.
Liu told NewsChina that Shanxi University and his provincial cultural heritage agency discussed similar training for grass-roots professionals, but the plans were halted due to the pandemic.
Though without higher salaries and better locations, these programs offer other benefits to dedicated professionals.
“The five-year program can assist young people’s future careers by providing first-hand experience on site,” Chen Xiaosan, a professor from the School of History and Culture at Shanxi University, told NewsChina. According to Chen, field work is hard and tedious but also rewarding. It provides opportunities not only to hone skills but also to work close to nature as well as with locals who continue folk traditions.
But Chen also said the success of the five-year program partly hinges on the emotional attachment those graduates have to their hometowns, which is not a long-term solution.
By contrast, Wang noted her academy is not short of professional personnel because of strong government support, which proves the importance of sufficient resources to attract professionals.