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Obliteration of the Distinctive Contour of the Old City of Beijing

On 18 September 2002, the municipal government of Beijing announced    “The Plan for the Protection of the Historical City of Beijing”, which set forth three clear provisions for the preservation of the distinctive contour of the Old City resembling the shape of  the Chinese character “凸”. The regulations stipulate that:
  • a green belt 30 meters wide is to be maintained on the east and west perimeters of the Old City
  • the moat on the north and south perimeters is to be strictly protected, forming a green belt on those sides of the city
  • the towers and the remains of the city walls are to be retained.
The plan emphasizes the special significance of the Old City’s contour as its “凸” shape is one of its most distinctive characteristics. The city walls, gates, moat, inner city and outer city all bear a close connection with the “凸” shape. If those contours are lost, so will most of the cultural significance of the city. Under the continuing onslaught from developers, the city’s “凸” contour is fast becoming its remaining symbol. Once the contours are broken, the Old City will never regain its integrity, the concept of the Old City will be obliterated and discussions about the preservation of the Old City will be redundant. To preserve the Old City of Beijing, its “凸” shape needs to be protected.
After on the ground observations, we have discovered that the contours of the Old City are now being infringed upon in the following ways:
  1. Contempt towards the concept of the 30 meter wide green belt on the east and west sides of the Old City, where the old city wall used to be. Some new buildings, and some recently altered buildings, occupy land that should be part of this green belt. These offending buildings include the Guangda International Center on the inside of West Second Ring Road South Section (see illustration #1) and the Shiji Real Estate Planning Building on the Central Section of East Second Ring Road (see illustration #2). Moreover, some buildings have greenery in front, but its sole purpose is to embellish the entrances to the buildings, not to provide symbolic representation of the old city walls. An example is the Jin Rong Building on the inside of the South Section of West Second Ring Road (see illustration #3).
  2. The building of major traffic arteries has already obscured the clear contours of the Old City at crucial points, such as Dong Bian Men, Xi Bian Men, and Dong Zhi Men. At the present time, the construction of a major thoroughfare in the northwest corner of the Old City has worsened the situation (see illustration #4). Some new construction work, the purpose of which is not clear, has also begun at the Tower of Dong Bian Men, making the future of the wall near the Tower uncertain (see illustration #5).
  3. A few projects that are being flaunted as top international level buildings are illegally occupying land on the inside of the Second Ring Road . They are not only destroying the style and features of the Old City, but are also damaging the smooth contours of the old city. The New Poly Plaza that is being built on the southwest corner of the intersection of East Second Ring Road and Dongsi Shitiao (see illustration #6), is possibly trying to compete in majesty with the old City Wall Towers, but in fact just appears uncouth and overbearing.
  4. Some portions of the moat on the north and south sides of the city are being suitably protected and are beginning to take the form of green belts protecting the Old City (see illustration #7). But the concept of the moat and its green belt defining the entire contours of the Old City contours has yet to materialize. Some sections of the northern moat are extremely narrow (see illustration #8), and others have been blocked by roads (see illustration #9).
The ”凸” shape marked the defensive perimeters of the Old City. Those old perimeters are still there, but encroachment on them is clearly underway. If the intrusions becomes more severe, then the perimeters will collapse. It is the right of every individual to closely inspect and to constructively report all such encroachments on the Old City.
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