Cultural heritage experts are urging managers of historic sites to recruit more volunteers to keep watch over China's priceless relics.
The call comes shortly after centuries-old stonemasonry at Beijing's Ming Tombs was badly damaged by suspected would-be thieves.
Although many sites already have cameras and barriers, expert He Shuzhong warned that the general lack of awareness among the public and administrators about the importance of relics is a threat to their preservation.
The Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center founder said that protection through cameras and fences is easier than increasing public awareness. "But we can absorb more volunteers and form a positive atmosphere about relic protection."
With advanced technology, Chinese heritage protection has been improved, but this does not mean the preservation will rely only on such technical skills, he said. "Instead, many people are interest-driven, aiming to be rich by stealing and selling relics."
The center, an NGO providing activities for enhancing the protection awareness among the public, has more than 5,000 volunteers nationwide, but He said the number is far from enough.
Zeng Yizhi, a cultural-relics protection activist, said calling for more volunteers to participate in protection will be effective because the volunteers will learn the importance and value of relics from their work.
"Many residents have no respect for our heritage and don't think their damage or theft will be punished. What they want is just to get more money," she said.
On Tuesday, an engraved stone at the Ming Tombs, an important legacy of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was found severely damaged.
The Royal Ming Mausoleum is the 80-square-kilometer cemetery of the 13 emperors from the dynasty and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to the Ming Tombs Special Administration, which manages the site in the capital's Changping district.
Cui Jinze, who called police after finding the damaged relic, said that when he visited the spot on Tuesday, he discovered that a sidestep, a precious heritage item with decorative patterns, and its protective footing stones, had been damaged.
"The stones around the heritage site were broken into pieces, while the surface also had obvious scars," he said.
A relic protection volunteer, Cui said many cameras at the spot did not work and there is no protection around the damaged steps.
If more residents enhance their knowledge and awareness of protection, such destruction will decrease, he added.
After the damage at the Ming Tombs, an employee with the administration's security department denied that all cameras in that area are out of order and said they had known about the damage before Cui.
However, a police officer in the district, who did not want to be identified, said: "We received a resident's report on that day and never received any information from the department."
The security department employee said authorities will set up more barriers and a monitoring system around the heritage site, adding that the case is still under investigation.