harbin city - resize

5 Places In China That Should Be UNESCO World Heritage Sites

When doing research for this article, it seemed that every site I chose was already a UNESCO heritage site. This was good and bad news. It is great news for China and those travelers with the opportunity to see one of the most amazing countries in the world with some of the world’s greatest treasures. It’s bad news for me because I had to find five sites not on the UNESCO list when nearly everything that came to mind from the Great Wall to Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area is on the list.

But after some serious thought and research, I found five worthy sites that have not yet been added to the list.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

What is the UNESCO World Heritage distinction and what does it mean?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) founded a World Heritage Committee, which started listing sites during their first conference in 1978. Thirteen sites made the initial list and today there are nearly 1,000 sites worldwide that carry this coveted distinction.

[Create Custom China Tour Today]

Sites are selected for either cultural or natural criteria, with some locations selected as hybrids, warranting inclusion for both their natural and cultural value. Here you can find the full list of criteria that the World Heritage Committee uses to select the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

5 Sites in China that should be UNESCO Heritage Sites

With fifty UNESCO World Heritage Sites, China has more than any other nation in the world with the exception of Italy, which has fifty-one. However, even with the extensive list of sites designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China, there are many more that are worthy of recognition. I have selected five of the most important sites that are conspicuously absent from the list.


harbin city - resize

In 2010 Harbin, China was dubbed “City of Music” by UNESCO giving a nod to the city’s rich musical heritage and commitment to fostering the continued growth of classical music. However, I contend that this distinction does not go far enough. Not only does the city continue to serve as a portal for Sino-Russian trade, but its rich history of cultural diffusion has created a truly unique setting of great architecture and other notable cultural aspects.

Moreover, Harbin is the site of the dark moment of Unit 731 where Japanese occupiers carried out cruelties against their Chinese captives. As many people have suggested, sites of terrible atrocities, such as the Killing Fields of Cambodia, be made UNESCO sites so that the world will never forget the evil that has been unleashed so that we may not repeat the mistakes of the past. For many reasons, Harbin should be on the coveted list.

The Yangtze River

yangzte river

The Yangtze River is a major vein delivering the lifeblood of China. Aside from providing the water necessary to found numerous significant loci of cultural development of China, the Yangtze is gorgeous. Moreover, it supports much of the biodiversity that makes China so unique. UNESCO did inscribe “Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas,” which includes the Mekong and Salween rivers (along with the Yangtze) in 2003. As they have stated the headwaters of these three great rivers meet at “an epicentre of Chinese biodiversity.”

Sadly, other portions of the Yangtze are badly polluted. It is so polluted that the Baiji, one of two river dolphins in the world, which lives exclusively in the Yangtze River has been pushed to the brink of extinction. There has not been a sighting of a Baiji since 2007, and many scientists believe that the dolphin is now extinct due to pollution and a loss of habitat. Perhaps a designation of the entire Yangtze River as a UNESCO Heritage Site would spur greater conservation efforts to protect this great river and the creatures that dwell within it.

The Bund

This waterfront area in Shanghai is a center of culture and history. The Bund has a slew of historical buildings, many of which were trading houses and banks for European states such as Italy, France, and Belgium. It was also home to the Russian and British consulates. The rich history and unique architecture of The Bund make it a tourist destination for anyone visiting Shanghai. The Bund is a physical representation of the meeting of Eastern and Western cultures and ideas. This urban treasure is an attraction that is certainly worthy of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Historical Center of Xi’an


The Silk Road, which became a UNESCO site in 2014, terminated in this ancient capital. The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor lies within Xi’an, with its famous terracotta army, has been a UNESCO site since 1987. However, the Historical Center of the ancient capital city does not yet have a UNESCO distinction.

A stroll through the Historical Center of Xi’an is a walk through artifacts that link the modern day visitor to China’s rich history. Xi’an’s importance cannot be overstated as it is considered to be one of the four most significant ancient capitals of the world along with Rome, Cairo, and Athens. Its unique position at the end of the Silk Road means that the ancient capital city was a meeting point for numerous cultures, ideas, and religions. The unique history of Xi’an makes its historical center an obvious choice as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Victoria Harbour

For all of its splendor and rich history, Hong Kong is without a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  There are many contenders for this distinction, however, to select just one it is hard to argue against Victoria Harbour.

Victoria Harbour is a signature of Hong Kong for visitors and locals alike. The scenic harbor is the site for fireworks displays, and its promenade is frequently filled with revelers. The amazing panorama, best seen at night, is renowned throughout the world. With fifty UNESCO sites, China has much to be proud of and to attract visitors. However, Hong Kong has been conspicuously overlooked, and the naming of Victoria Harbour as a UNESCO site would go a long way toward bringing Hong Kong the recognition it deserves.

Learn How To Book The Cheapest Flights To China

Download FREE eBook

Follow him

Loren Mayshark

Loren Mayshark is an American published author and travel writer who has traveled extensively in S.E. Asia and studied Chinese art, religion, philosophy, and history while earning a BA in World History from Manhattanville College.

He has written for The Permaculture Research Institute and Uisio among other prominent outlets.

He is the author of Death: An Exploration (2016). For more visit his official website: www.lorenmayshark.com
Loren Mayshark
Follow him