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In the Nick of Time

Global Times By Ming Yue on Tues, 19/01/2010

The former residence of Lin and Liang.

The former residence of Lin and Liang.

The former residence of famed Chinese architect couple Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin has been determined to be an immovable historical relic by the government, according to a January 7 report in The Beijing News.

The move nearly came too late, as Liang and Lin’s former residence (from 1930 to 1937), located in Beizongbu Hutong of Dongcheng district, has already been nearly half torn down. Still, volunteers from the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP www.bjchp. org) consider the government’s legal support to be quite the victory.

“This is the very first case of administrative reconsideration made by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage since the issuing of a new law about the categorization of historical relics last October,” CHP announced on its official website that same day. “The citizens have won! And the courtyard is under protection of the law now.”

It nearly didn’t happen. After the application for protection was rejected by the Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage in November 2009, a comment on CHP’s website pointed out the potential tragic precedent the situation could set. “Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin are the pioneers of cultural heritage protection in China. And if even their home cannot get decent protection, we think it will be a shame for the entire Chinese population,” it read.

To non-Beijing natives, the names of Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin perhaps are unfamiliar. However, most Chinese are familiar with Liang and Lin: one was an advocate for protecting Beijing’s old city wall and town before their demolition, while the other was the first female architect in contemporary China. The couple devoted their lives to exploring ancient Chinese architecture and its protection.

Wu Lili, the managing director of CHP, told Lifestyle, “We started to notice the demolition of Liang and Lin’s former residence from a blog criticism by Xinhua journalist Wang Jun last July. Then we held a public talk about it, and CHP volunteers made a promotional video on the subject in August 2009.” Because of media coverage and CHP’s efforts, Beijing’s municipal government called a halt to the demolition.

“The enactment of the new law last October encourages the public’s participation. Citizens have been given the right to protect their cultural heritage,” Wu explained. “Seven citizens were the applicants during the whole process. CHP just provides the legal guidance and suggestions. Several of them are CHP’s volunteers.”

Since its foundation in 1998, CHP’s major goal has been to mobilize community residents into the protection of their own cultural heritage. “Getting more residents to participate in the protection of historical relics and cultural heritage is CHP’s original idea. Our dream is to become a laboratory promoting the construction of civil society. We consider ourselves a platform, not the pioneers,” Wu said.

As a small NGO based in Beijing, CHP has three full-time sta. members, two foreign interns and less than 30 core volunteers. The financial support comes from donations and project funds. Wu said the majority of the donations they receive are from foreigners and foreign embassies.

To raise Chinese awareness of cultural heritage protection, CHP threw a folk gig last December, titled “Because I Care.” “About 90 percent of the audience was Chinese,” Wu said. However, “the only donation CHP got during this gig was from a foreigner.”

Apart from the difficulty in raising funds, Wu said the greatest challenge lies in their function as a government supervisor. “Our job is to monitor the Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage, which is CHP’s direct leader. We have our difficulties and they have theirs.”

CHP’s next goal is to urge the government to announce Liang and Lin’s former residence as a historical relic at the municipal level with vital influence. For other projects, as CHP’s slogan puts it, “Let these disappearances come at a slower pace.”

CHP would like to thank Global Times for allowing us to republish the article for educational purposes.

Read the original article.

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