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Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP) is a small grassroots, legally-registered NGO working to protect cultural heritage across China.

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Friends of Old Beijing: Legal Background

Few people know that Beijing already has an official heritage conservation plan for selected areas of the Old City: Conservation Planning of 25 Historic Areas in Beijing Old City (hereafter referred to as Conservation).  It lays out the guidelines for preservation of the historical and cultural integrity of the 25 selected areas highlighted in the plan. In many areas the government is doing good work to protect and restore neighborhoods to their traditional appearance. But in many other areas there is lax enforcement and weak understanding of conservation plans and guidelines.

Conservation will be the basis for the monitoring work of “Friends of Old Beijing”. We will use Conservation to identify areas where conservation work is proceeding according to plan, and areas where it is being done badly or in violation of the government plan.  We will help the Beijing Municipal Government implement these cultural heritage protection laws.

There are other laws that are also related to our work, and it is important to understand these laws so the“Friends of Old Beijing” program is successful. You can click on any of the laws below to see a translated summary.

  1. PRC Law on the Protection of Cultural Relics
  2. Measures for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks of Beijing
  3. Plan for the Protection of Cultural and Historical Landmarks of Beijing
  4. Conservation Planning of 25 Historic Areas in Beijing Old City
  5. Regulations governing the Scope of Protection of Historical Preservation Districts and Restrictions on Construction
  6. Regulations relating to Protection and Renovation of buildings in the Old City of Beijing Historical Protection Districts
  7. Standards for Style of Renovation of Buildings in Historical Conservation Districts of the Old City of Beijing

For other cultural heritage protection laws for both national and municipal levels, please visit the following website.

China National Cultural Heritage Administration

Beijing Cultural Heritage Administration

1.PRC Law on the Protection of Cultural Relics is China’s most important legal instrument in the area of cultural heritage protection.  The following stipulations closely relate to the protection of Old Beijing:

Cultural relics and heritage are under the protection of State.  The government shall designate authorities in charge of  identificating and protectiing cultural relics.

The government shall ensure the safety of cultural heritage.  Infrastructure construction and tourism development shall not damage any cultural relics.

The government shall make efforts to educate the public and improve their awareness of cultural relics protection.

A system of  identified protection sites shall be established to provide legal protection to ancient architectures and other heritage sites.

Old towns, streets, communities, and villages are cultural heritage which the government is responsible for protecting.

The government shall take cultural relic protection into consideration while making urban and rural development plans

Maintenance and restoration of ancient architecture and other cultural heritage shall not change their original appearance and structure.

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2.Measures for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks of Beijing is the major legal basis for public’s participation in Old Beijing protection.

Highlights of the measures include:

Beijing Municipal Government encourages entities and individuals’ participation in protection efforts by donating, financing, and providing technical and advisory services.

Every entity and individual is entitled to make recommendations on the preparation and implementation of the cultural and historical landmarks protection program, and shall have the rights to stop, report and sue the actions damaging cultural and historical landmarks (CHL).

The municipal, district and county governments or other administrative authorities shall commend and award entities and individuals making significant contributions to the protection of CHL.

Protection of Old Beijing includes the following:

The old city is the area within, and including, the moat of Ming and Qing dynasties.  Historical water bodies, completeness of the central line, royal palace, the original layout of the old city and old hutongs, street views, and ancient trees shall be protected.  Controls shall be placed on the height and color of buildings.

Historical and cultural streets and communities, and buildings carrying historical and ethnical features, shall be identified as historical and cultural communities, within which strictly protected areas and construction control area shall be marked out.  The development and construction within the construction control area shall be consistent with the area’s original style and landscape.  Municipal government is responsible for the identification and announcement of areas of strict protection and construction control.

Identified cultural and heritage architectures.

Architectures of other historical-cultural value and to be preserved.  Such architectures shall include Siheyuan and other buildings which are not on protected unmovable cultural heritage list, yet reflecting old architecture features and carrying historical importance

On the urban planning within the old Beijing area, the measures stipulates that:

The Municipal Government shall develop a protection plan of Beijing CHL.  The preparation shall have public participation by soliciting the opinions of general public and convening specialist appraisal meetings.

Once the CHL protection plan is approved and issued according to relevant laws, it shall not be amended or revised without appropriate legal procedures.  If it has to be amended or revised for public’s interest, the amendments shall be discussed by public and appraised by specialists, and re-approved by the previous approving authorities.

Other urban planning programs of Beijing and their specific contents shall comply with the CHL protection plan.

The protection measures include:

Any construction within the protected areas shall comply with the CHL plan.  The sponsor shall obtain the approval of urban planning authorities, and the designers shall also comply with the requirements of the CHL protection plan.

Illegal construction and demolition is prohibited in the protected areas.  The land use shall subject to the approved purposes, and shall not be altered.  The new architecture’s height and floor area ratio shall not exceed the limit, and its style and color shall meet the requirements.  The new architecture shall not disturb the overall layout and structure of the neighboring buildings and the whole Hutong.

Government shall, according to the CHL protection plan, formulate measures to adjust the function of the old city area, reduce the density of population, and gradually improve the housing conditions of residents there.

The municipal urban planning authorities shall, before approving any urban development program, consult cultural heritage protection authorities and experts if any old architecture needs to be preserved in the area concerned.

The municipal urban planning authorities shall, before approving construction plans of roads and road-side buildings in the protected area, evaluate the overall impacts of the proposed constructions on the old city outlook.  Project without or failed the evaluation shall not be approved.

Unmovable cultural heritage within the historical and cultural communities shall be protected in accordance with relevant cultural heritage protection laws and regulations.

Every entity and individual who discovers valuable cultural or historical relics not on the protection list in the process of urban development construction is entitled to make protection recommendations to the cultural heritage protection authorities or urban development planning authorities.

Punitive measures against damage of old Beijing are also stipulated in the Measures.

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3.Plan for the Protection of Cultural and Historical Landmarks of Beijing (“Plan”) is the key plan for the protection of old Beijing.  Entities and individuals conducting construction activity with in the planned area shall abide by the PRC Urban Planning Law, and implement the Plan.  The Plan, once approved by the municipal government, will be implemented by the urban planning authorities.  Any significant change to the plan shall be re-approved by the municipal government.

According to the Plan, the protection efforts will focus on three levels, namely, the protection of tangible relics, areas historical and cultural importance, and the old city in general.   The priority is to preserve the old city area.

Tangible relics include: world heritage sites, cultural heritage sites identified by  the government, cultural relics identified during the cultural relics survey, sites where cultural relics might be buried.

Protected areas: 1st list of 25 areas, 2nd list pending.

Overall protection of the old city including the water bodies, completeness of the central line, royal palace, the original layout of the old city and old Hutongs, street views, ancient trees, color and style of the original architectures.

With regard to the relationship between redevelopment and preservation of the old city area, the Plan stipulates:

Redevelopment of the dangers houses in the protected areas should strictly comply with the Plan, with the courtyard as basic unit of reconstruction in order to restore the community’s original style.

Redevelopment of the area off the protection list shall include evaluation and preservation of cultural relics or architectures of historical importance, and abide by the regulations concerning the protection and construction control of areas adjacent to protected cultural relics identified by various levels of authorities, as well as the regulations on the height of buildings in the Detailed Plan of Construction Control Area of the Center of Beijing.

Entities implementing the redevelopment program shall have properly addressed the protection related issues before submitting the redevelopment plan for government approval.  The redevelopment program shall include detailed cultural heritage protection plans, including history of the area, identified cultural relics in the area, architecture and relics of historical importance, old trees, as well as measures to preserve the original cultural style and improve the environment.

Commercial operation is not suitable for old city redevelopment.

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4.Conservation Planning of 25 Historic Areas in Beijing Old City is the most authoritative law, on which we build our Friends of Old Beijing program. Unless the Beijing municipal government make any amendments to this conservation plan formerly and openly, otherwise, any different regulations in any other planning regarding these 25 historic areas are all useless.

The locations and characteristics of the 25 historic areas in Beijing’s old city:

The total land space of these 25 historic areas are 1,038 hectares, and it is about 17% of the total area in Beijing old city. Plus 200 more officially protected sites/entities outside the historical areas which makes about 2383 hectares, total 38% of the Beijing old city.

Fourteen such historic areas locates in the former imperial city, namely Nan Chang Jie, Bei Chang Jie, Xi Hua Men Da Jie, Nan Bei Chi Zi, Dong Hua Men Da Jie, Jing Shan Dong Jie, Jing Shan Xi Jie, Jing Shan Hou Jie, and Di An Men Nei Da Jie, which have turned into traditional residential neighborhood areas; Wen Jing Jie, Jing Shan Qian Jie, Wu Si Da Jie are still traditional cultural streets; Zhi Shan Men Jie is a characteristic little alleyway connecting Bei Hai park and Jing Shan park.

There are seven areas locate outside the former imperial city, but inside the former inner city. Xi Si Bei Tou Tiao to Xi Si Bei Ba Tiao area, Dong Si San Tiao to Dong Si Ba Tiao area, Nan Luo Gu Xiang area were all built in Yuan Dynasty, and are the most intact traditional residential areas; Shi Cha Hai area is an area that combines lake scenery, palatial compound, monastery buildings, and folk cultural scenes; Guo Zi Jian is an area of traditional courtyards centered around a few important cultural heritage architectures, and monastery buildings; Fu Cheng Men Nei Da Jie has always been famous for its busy traffic, and there are a number of temples lined up the street; Dong Jiao Min Xiang had been the legation area for the western countries since 1900.

Four more areas locate in the outer city. Da Shi Lan and Xian Yu Kou areas are traditional commercial areas. From Cao Chang San Tiao to Cao Chang Jiu Tiao (total seven Hutongs) on the east of Xian Yu Kou are unique Hutongs that runs from north to south in Beijing old city, and they are mainly residential areas; Dong Liu Li Chang and Xi Liu Li Chang are traditional cultural streets.

Protection Standards and Requirements:
Land units: Research on the present states, and conservation planning are all based on the courtyards as a fundamental unit. Courtyard units are based on the postal address and the premise it represents. The conservation planning has identified a total of 15,178 courtyards, and out of which 5,456 courtyards are relatively intact, which comprises 36% of the total identified courtyards.

Land function adjustment planning: Land usage can include residential, public construction, industry, road and public green land.

Population planning: There are a total of 95,000 families, or 285,000 people in the 25 historic cultural protection areas, and the population density is about 275 people per hectare. According to the conservation planning, population up limit should be around 167,000 people, and as a result, a total of 118,000 people should be relocated to other areas, which means 41% of the current population need to move.

Architecture protection and renovation: According to the state of its preservation, the present architectural quality is divided up into three categories: good, normal and bad. There are a total of 6.13 million square meters of architectures in the 25 historic cultural protection areas, and 42% of them are categorized as good, 41% as normal, and 17% as bad. According to the historical and cultural background, spatial layout, exterior design, architectural styles of the present architectures, we evaluate the traditional style and historical and cultural value in the following five categories: 1. National, municipal or district level officially protected sites or entities – 7%; 2. Traditional or modern architectures with a certain historic and cultural values – 9%; 3. Common traditional architectures with similar style as the traditional style architectures – 36%; 4. Modern architectures but fit in the atmosphere of traditional neighborhood – 14%; 5. Architectures with wired style in traditional neighborhood – 34%.

Road and traffic planning: the total length of the hutongs in the protection areas are over 111 kilometers, and the specific regulations are: hutongs no wider than 3 meters are pedestrian and non-engine vehicles only roads, which is about 16%; hutongs no wider than five meters but wider than three meters are mainly used for pedestrians and non-engine vehicles, but can also be used for automobiles as one-way road, serving mainly the local residence, which are about 35%; hutongs no wider than seven meters but wider than five meters are mainly used for automobiles as one-way road, serving the local residence, which are 26%; hutongs no wider than nine meters but wider than seven meters can be used as two-way roads, and besides working for the local residences, it should also be used to provide pass-through traffic convenience, and these hutongs are about 17%. Hutongs wider than nine meters can be used to balance the city traffic in its micro location, and these hutongs are about 6%.

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5.Regulations governing the Scope of Protection of Historical Preservation Districts and Restrictions on Construction principally focus on controlling the height of buildings, with consideration for the lay-out, security, and environment

There are five types of height restriction zones for protected sites:

Type 1: no construction. Only green areas and fire lanes are allowed—nothing else. Any existing structures must either be removed, or else a time-table set up for their removal if immediate removal is not feasible.

Type 2: Single-storey structures are permitted. Alterations and expansions are not permitted. Structures not in accordance with requirements, or decrepit structures, should be altered to make them conform to regulations, and after permission for renovation is granted, they may not exceed 3.3 meters in height. Density must not exceed 4%.

Type 3: Buildings up to 9 meters are permitted. The form, size, and color must be harmonious with the protected site. Density must not exceed 35%.

Type 4: Buildings are permitted up to 18 meters in height.

Type 5: Special control districts for sites with special value or special requirements.

Height restriction is measured from the highest point on the building.

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6.Regulations relating to Protection and Renovation of buildings in the Old City of Beijing Historical Protection Districts

Historical relics should be looked after in accordance with the laws and regulations regarding historical relics.

Protected buildings can only be renovated in conformity with the original lay-out and form, and may not be demolished, altered, or expanded. If internal modernization is required, they should retain their original lay-out and external appearance.

Courtyards that have been designated as protected are to be treated as protected buildings.

Alterations are to be for the sake of renovation. Any buildings that are decrepit are to be reconstructed following the original style.

Preserved architectures are to be kept, but when reconstruction is neccessary it should be rebuilt in the traditional style.

Architectures to be replaced should be rebuilt strictly following the spatial layout plan, architectural design, measurements, forms and colors of the protection area.

Decorations should be done in accordance to the traditional style of the protection area.

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7.Standards for Style of Renovation of Buildings in Historical Conservation Districts of the Old City of Beijing

After renovation, the appearance should be neat, the colors coordinated, and they should have gray walls. Modern structures with flat roofs should alter them to sloping roofs. In renovation, materials not harmonious with the style of the Conservation District should not be used. Gray bricks are to be the basic material for external walls. Doors and windows should be in the traditional style, and if modern materials are used, they should be harmonious with the overall appearance of the buildings.

The end result desired after renovation of courtyards: neat lay-out, no illegal structures within the courtyards, freshly painted doors, coordinated colours, and gray brick as the basis of the walls.

After renovating a hutong, the end result should be: clear signs and layout, even and solid surfaces, and good draining. The colors of the buildings on the two sides of the hutong should be similar and harmonious with their surroundings.

External air conditioners, solar water heaters, aerials, and other appurtenances should be mounted in inconspicuous places. Cables should not interfere with the appearance of the district.

Any signs, advertisements, lamps, etc. should be removed. All signs for commercial establishments should be signage traditionally associated with that trade or craft.

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