KUNMING, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- A plan for a seemingly exotic holiday resort in an ancient town in southwest China's Yunnan Province has sparked concerns over its impact on the local environment and culture.
Eyebrows were raised when an online article claimed a "French Mediterranean Lijiang holiday town" was set to be built in Basha Township, an 800-year-old idyllic area that preserves the culture of the indigenous Naxi ethnic minority and is a water source for Lijiang City.
The Naxi people boast an impressive history, including inventing one of the world's few pictographic writing systems still in use -- Dongba script, which was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2003.
The 3 billion yuan (450 million U.S. dollars) project, undertaken by Lijiang Derun Real Estate Development, held a ceremony earlier this month, but construction does not start until it passes a series of environmental assessment tests, said Wu Zhenjun, deputy head of Lijiang's Yulong County,which administers Baisha.
A 2010-2030 Lijiang development plan said the projects was in the "strict approval for development" category, since the site is home to Naxi countryside, wetland and meadow, Wu said.
According to the resort plan published on the website of the Yulong government, nearly 70 hectares of land will become home to a high-end hotel, entertainment facility and cultural center, as well as a wetland park, forest park, arboretum and ecological village.
Liu Xiaotian, general manager of the developer, promised that the resort's style will not be French, though the project's name suggests otherwise.
"The words French and Mediterranean simply refer to the French resort operator Club Mediterranee, and the official name of the project has not been decided yet," Liu said.
The project plan said elements of traditional Naxi architecture will be adopted into new buildings, and the landscape of the the ancient village would feature in the project. "There is no planned western-style architecture," Wu said.
As part of the resort, an exhibition hall will be set up to promote Naxi culture, Liu said.
Despite the developer's promises, academics worry that the resort may damage the authenticity of the culture.
"There are not many places like Baisha that preserve a complete Naxi village," said Yang Fuquan, head of Yunnan's Naxi study society. "We don't think such a sensitive location should be chosen for the resort."
In addition, since the resort sits near the snow-capped Yulong Mountain, Yang said that academics expect a convincing environmental assessment, especially regarding the impact on water resources.
Five domestic institutions dedicated to conservation of Naxi culture have called for a "more careful, more comprehensive and more scientific" environmental assessment of the project and urged the relevant watchdog to listen to academics.
Liu said the detailed construction plan will listen to academics, villagers and other social groups.
The project will be located at Xinshan village where it is welcomed. "The land has been idle for many years. We hope construction can start as soon as possible and have signed statements to that effect," said He Shigang, 63, a former head of the village of over 400 people.
Villagers lead a hard life through farming, He said. He also expressed his envy of neighbors in a nearby village who had built new homes with cash from booming tourism.
"We want tourists too," He said.