Aug 4 2013, 3:02am CDT | by IANS
Beijing, Aug 4 — In the countryside of Xianyang in northwest China's Shaanxi province, a farmer named He Jin patrols the fields every night with a flashlight and a baton. For the past 15 years, the man has been among thousands of people who have volunteered to protect heritage sites packed with tombs of Chinese emperors.
Xianyang was the capital of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.). The area where tombs of the 27 Han (206 B.C.-A.D.220) and Tang (618-907 A.D.) dynasties in the city are located is dubbed the "City of Oriental Pyramids", Xinhua news agency reported.
He Jin's guards the Kangling Mausoleum, tomb of Han Dynasty Emperor Ping. Fifteen years ago, aged 24, he quit the military and came back home to Xianyang. Unlike his peers who migrated to cities for big money, he chose to stay and became a volunteer guard.
The area around his village was surrounded by many subordinate tombs -- holding the remains of lesser personages clustered near the main emperor's burial ground. But there were no laws to protect cultural relics in China at that time. Many villagers removed materials from the tombs to build houses, or even farm on top of the bigger tombs.
There are only two official employees of the Kangling Mausoleum Relics Management Center, a government department for cultural relics protection, according to director Zhang Xiaojun.
As the office is short-staffed, "so we invite volunteer farmers to help us", he said.
There are nearly 5,000 people in Shaanxi province who volunteer for cultural heritage protection, and most of them are farmers.
But these volunteers face great hardship. They do the work without any pay or holidays. In the daytime, they labour in their own fields or on nearby construction sites.
In addition, their lives are often at risk. The volunteers make their rounds every night after 8 p.m. and they sometimes encounter grave robbers, who are fierce and malicious, a farmer said.
Dong Mingyuan, 71, works as a volunteer to guard the Maoling Mausoleum of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.
"It is said that people with my family name are descendants of Dong Zhongshu, an eminent Chinese scholar in the Han Dynasty. So it is our responsibility to protect these tombs," Dong said.
Dong Mingyuan comes to the tombs every day. If he sees any suspicious people, he reports them to the authorities immediately.
He has come across grave robbers and many unruly visitors. On one occasion, two men managed to vault over the fence around the tomb. He stopped them. One of the intruders punched him in the face.
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