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Tripping on treasured towns

China's charming and cherished but overlooked towns will be explored in a television project, "China Untapped: Discovering Treasured Towns."

The 20-episode project, to be aired on International Channel Shanghai, aims to turn these unspoiled and undeveloped places into tourist destinations.

The idea is culturally sensitive development, not big garish touristy projects.

The 20 towns, one per episode, have yet to be chosen and documented on film.

Fifteen will be honored in late November, spotlighted and targeted for tourism development.

China is full of quaint towns and villages tucked away in beautiful landscapes and filled with fascinating stories.

The town-discovery project is co-produced by ICS, Channel News Asia of the Media Corp Singapore and the Tongji Urban Planning and Design Institute.

Many delightful and well-known towns receive accolades but, according to organizers, there has never been an event designed to discover little-known and overlooked towns.

"China Untapped" has four parts: launching the 20 episodes of feature programming; an awards ceremony in late November; a forum on the development of small and medium-sized towns; and a campaign promoting selected treasured towns.

"Many small and medium-sized towns are treasures," says Sun Wei, executive director of ICS. "Their primitive stages of development have many elements that need to be documented. Unique ethnic identities and local cultural features are important parts of diversified Chinese civilization."

These towns also demonstrate the ongoing progress of China's globalization and modernization, he says.

Well-known experts in urban planning and design will judge the project.

They include Professor Zheng Shiling of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Professor Ruan Yisan, a deputy in the national bureau for historical and cultural preservation.

Representatives from the Shanghai government, the tourism industry and several real estate specialists will also join the project.

In the coming months, professional TV crews will accompany experts touring selected towns and shoot documentary-style programs.

Professor Zheng considers the project a good way for small towns to get attention and showcase their attractions.

"A lot of cities and towns are in danger of losing their distinctive character," Professor Zheng says. "Magnificence, high buildings and large-scale construction projects are what they pursue in urban planning. But this development isn't appropriate."

Many of the town-discovery programs have big potential for international copyright sales and Shanghai Media Group has just opened a copyright management center.

Group President Li Ruigang says it reaped around 370 million yuan (US$54 million) in copyright revenue last year, a sign of promising growth.

"We used to produce TV shows simply to broadcast," Li says, "but now we will study the true demands of television audience and present more market-oriented programs and events."


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