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Protection of the Old City of Beijing: Good Plans, No Follow Through

The Old City of Beijing—the Ming and Qing city lying within the remains of the old city wall and moat, which in today’s terms is the area lying within the Second Ring Road, occupying 62.5 square kilometers—is one of the world’s most well-known cultural heritage sites. On 18 September 2002, the municipal government  announced a detailed plan to protect the Old City and started to implement it from 16 October that year. According to the laws on Municipal Planning of the PRC government, these plans have the power of law and must be enforced as such. Unless the plans have gone through the legal amendment process, the contents of the plans may not be altered.
 
The Old City protection plan is very substantive. A few key points are shown below:
1. The convex-shaped borders of the Old City must be protected. Thirty meters of green space is to be maintained on the inner side of the East and West Second Ring Roads, symbolic of the old city walls that used to be there.
2. The form and colors of all new structures within the Old City must be in harmony with the overall style and features of the Old City. All single and multiple story residences must have sloping roofs. 
3. The first group of Old City Conservation zones (25 zones with a total area of 1038 hectares) must be protected strictly in accordance with the protection plan approved by Beijing City in February 2002. The protection of the second group of Old City Conservation zones (5 zones occupying 249 hectares) will be governed by a protection plan that is to be prepared, approved, and enforced by the city government as quickly as possible. In the Imperial City conservation zone,  structures three stories and higher, and structures not in keeping with the style and features of the Imperial City, will no longer be approved. All existing flat-roof structures within the Imperial City will be converted to sloping roof structures.
4. Height restriction controls will follow three criteria: protected buildings will be controlled under the Cultural Relics Protection Law, buildings within the historical conservation zones will be controlled by the Protection Plan, and the remaining buildings will be managed by the Central Beijing District Detailed Control Plan.
5. All ancient relics within the Old City are to be strictly managed according to the Cultural Relics Protection Law. Such relics include World Heritage sites, national level protected sites, city level protected sites, district level protected sites, and district level “temporarily protected and under investigation” sites.
6. The traditional names of Old City places are to be protected. Traditional names of streets and hutongs can’t be casually changed.
 
The Protection Plan for the Old City of Beijing has the support of the central government of China, and was put in place on the foundation of public support and expert advice. Whether or not the plan can be strictly implemented determines the fate of the Old City. On 1 May, 2005, “The Regulations for the Protection of the Famous Historical Culture of Beijing” started to be applied. The eighth clause of the regulation states that “Every unit and individual person in Beijing has an obligation to protect the historical Old City of Beijing, and moreover has the right to offer proposals regarding the enactment and implementation of the Protection Plan, to dissuade from, inform on, and bring accusations against any activities destructive of the historical city of Beijing.”
 
We looked into the actual condition of the Old City and found that the protection work had not been diligently undertaken. Violations of the  regulations include:
*  The 30 meter green zone, symbolizing the old city wall, can scarcely be found.
* There are many buildings not in harmony with the overall form and style of the Old City.
* Forced demolition of old structures under the pretext that they are hazardous structures (there seems no way to stop this sort of activity).
* Some of the new structures seriously violate height restrictions, and there are several excessively tall buildings appearing within the East Second Ring Road.
* Many historical relics are inappropriately occupied and misused, to the extent that their appearance has been totally altered.
* Traditional place names are beginning to disappear, replaced by names expressive of the mentality of the nouveau riche.
 
The occurrences above that transpired before the protection plans stemmed from stupidity and ignorance, but for those after the regulations were brought in are illegal.  In the future we shall raise and analyze a few detailed examples of the destruction of the Old City, in order to enlist the public in the effective protection of the Old City of Beijing.
 
 
 
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