China's accelerating urbanization and booming tourism have threatened the preservation of ancient villages that have retained their local cultural heritage for generations.
According to a nation-wide survey of traditional Chinese villages launched in April 2012, the country is home to 12,000 old-style or traditional villages, accounting for 0.5 percent of the total villages in China.
The term "traditional" covers three categories of villages: those dominated by ancient buildings, those with unique elements that reflect the essence of Chinese culture, and those rich in intangible cultural heritage.
To date, 1,561 villages have been named traditional Chinese villages by the ministries of culture, finance, and housing and urban-rural development.
Qiandongnan Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Guizhou Province is home to 225 such ancient settlements, but their traditional ethnic characteristics keep fading as the villages undergo modernization.
"Old houses have been dismantled or painted the same color while new buildings are being built in rural areas inhabited by some ethnic groups," said Huang Yuanliang, secretary of the Kaili Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China in the prefecture.
The traditional buildings of the Miao and Dong ethnic groups in the ancient settlements, mainly made of wood, are vulnerable to fire and insects, according to Gu Huaxian, deputy director of the prefecture's housing and construction bureau.
Gu said that many ancient settlements in the prefecture have suffered from fires, resulting in huge losses to the local traditional architectural heritage.
Protecting traditional villages from fire and erosion is a major problem in the prefecture, which boasts many wooden buildings, according to Gu.
"Mobilizing the local villagers to participate in the preservation of the ancient villages is effective," said Zhang Yong, deputy director of Guizhou Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau. "But the preservation and protection work now largely rely on local government."
As an increasing number of former villagers have moved away, fewer people continue to preserve the traditional buildings or inherit the local culture.
To help with preservation of ancient villages, the local government should enhance infrastructure construction and improve living quality of local residents in these ethnic groups, Zhang said.
Local tourism development should also be integrated with ethnic cultures to increase local residents' income and improve their confidence in the culture, and arouse their consciousness of protecting the villages, said Long Jinggao, director of housing and development bureau in Liping county of the prefecture.
China's leadership attaches great importance to protecting these historical places. President Xi Jinping has stressed that ancient communities must be safeguarded, condemning widespread demolition and new construction as incompatible with the ideal of building a beautiful country.
The ministries of culture, finance, and housing and urban-rural development plan to spend three to five years extending surveys, improving the catalogue of China's traditional villages, and documenting these ancient villages so as to pave the way for a nationwide medium- and long-term preservation plan.