"Some local officials seem to be altering the appearance of cities with the determination of moving the mountain and altering the water course," Qiu said.

 

Chinese cities have seen rapid transformation in recent years, with old neighbourhoods pulled down to make way for high-rise buildings and highways.

 

But many historic buildings have also been destroyed in the country's race for progress.

 

'Blind pursuit'

 

Qiu said many Chinese cities were
losing their unique identity [AP]
Qiu likened the destruction to events during the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 when relics and sites of historical value were destroyed by the Red Guards.

 

He also attacked some local governments for their "blind pursuit of large, new and exotic" buildings which has seen many of China's cityscapes totally transformed over the last 15 years of spectacular economic growth.

 

As a result, Qiu said, many of China's cities had become virtually indistinguishable.

 

"It is like 1,000 cities having the same appearance," he said on the sidelines of an international conference on urban culture and city planning.

 

'Cheap' fakes

 

In the same report Tong Mingkang, deputy director of China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage, accused some local governments of pulling down valuable historical sites in need of repair and replacing them with fakes.

 

"It is like tearing up an invaluable painting and replacing it with a cheap print," Tong was quoted as saying.

 

He added that a five-year nationwide survey on cultural relics estimated to cost 1bn yuan ($130m) had been launched to get a clearer picture of their status.

 

China did not even have a law protecting cultural relics until 1982 and during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution many priceless artifacts that were not taken to Taiwan at the end of the civil war in 1949 were destroyed.