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Experts call for government action to protect ancient sites

updated: 2009-11-20

The Beijing government must stop demolishing historical buildings in the name of urban development, an expert says.

Zeng Yizhi, from the China division of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, an international organization dedicated to the conservation of the world's historic monuments and sites, said a conservation plan announced on Monday might not be enough to protect the city's historical sites.

Zeng said more supervision is needed because ancient buildings had been demolished across the city. Xuanwu district's hutong area is a good example of this, she said.

The hutong area, known as Daji, which dates back to the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), has been seriously damaged by large-scale development in recent years.

"The government must stop demolishing historical buildings in the name of urban development," Zeng said.

On Monday, the government said it would invest 3 billion yuan in the protection of Beijing's historical sites over the next five years.

Ye Limei from the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences agreed: "It seems to me there is already a consensus over heritage protection in our society, but the problem is that in reality it always gives way to commercial interests."

Zeng said that there were once 69 historical and cultural buildings in Xuanwu district's hutong area, including former residences of historical figures and ancient temples.

However, 26 have been demolished and less than 10 are preserved intact, she said.

The damage is likely to continue if the area's hutong courtyard houses continue to be demolished to make way for new real estate, Zeng said.

Zeng said she had submitted a proposal to the district and municipal governments to ask for proper protection and maintenance of those buildings.

"It's not simply about protecting those individual relics," Zeng said.

"Old towns and cities should be protected as a whole, according to Beijing's city planning, which was framed at the end of 2004. So it's against the law to demolish all those courtyard houses even if the government leaves those relics alone.

"While we understand the government's intention to develop the city and hutong residents' needs to improve living standards, it is also possible to achieve that goal without damaging history by making restorations without driving away the residents," she said.

The government needs to develop a new model for balancing the interests of development and conservation, Ye said.

She said Nanluoguxiang is a good example of this balance. The 800-m long alleyway is packed with bars, restaurants and shops, but has been revitalized without damage to its historical flavor.

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