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Heritage Trail project

“Friends of Old Beijing” Program Will Begin

Love the hutongs and courtyard houses of Old Beijing? Distressed to see block after block demolished to make way for high-rise building? Want to help preserve the beauty of the old city, but feel powerless to do anything other than take photos of hutongs before they disappear? We all feel that way, but now is the time to act on our convictions. For those who feel passionate about Old Beijing, CHP and that’s Beijing magazine are launching a network, Friends of Old Beijing. We invite you to join us both to learn about hutongs and to contribute in a focused way to help preserve the remaining conserved areas of Old Beijing. Friends of Old Beijing welcomes both foreigners and Chinese.

What will participants in Friends of Old Beijing do? After enrolling in Friends of Old Beijing, in November you will attend two sessions of orientation and training on the program, followed by monthly lectures on the history, architecture and culture of old Beijing by both Chinese and foreign experts. You will join two to four other members of Friends of Old Beijing to form a team investigating in detail one of the twenty-five historical conservation districts of Old Beijing assigned to you. Your team will be responsible for reporting on the state of conservation and adherence to historical protection guidelines of that district, developing a heritage route through the neighborhood, and, in conjunction with CHP, devising strategies for conserving the district. CHP will provide you with information materials, training, and assist in arranging contact with people living in the district. As a member of Friends of Old Beijing, you will be learning about the city’s historical heritage while actively contributing to its protection.

The architectural, archeological and cultural aspects of the Old City of Beijing face threats from developers, inefficient implementation of preservation laws and guidelines, and basic neglect. The Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics and the city’s rapid economic development put additional pressure on what remains of Old Beijing. While much of the old area of the city has been destroyed over the past half century, much of great charm, beauty and value remains to be conserved.

Beijing has an official heritage conservation plan for these remaining areas: Conservation Planning of 25 Historic Areas in Beijing Old City (hereafter referred to as Conservation). Conservation was drafted by the Beijing Municipal Planning Commission, and was officially approved by the Beijing Municipal Government in February of 2002. Conservation lays out the guidelines, standards and requirements for preservation of the historical and cultural integrity of the 25 selected areas highlighted in the plan. In addition, there are detailed descriptions of the existing condition, character and natural qualities of each district, together with maps of key conservation areas and all relevant figures and statistics for each conservation district. In many areas the government is doing good work to protect and to 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 well and 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 in implementation of its cultural heritage protection laws. We will also help to develop touring programs based on heritage walking routes, with maps and information pamphlets describing the local history and special points of interest in each of our chosen heritage conservation districts.

Our findings will be published on the CHP website, reported in that’s Beijing, distributed to the Chinese media, and summarized in a final report to the Office of the Mayor of Beijing Municipality and relevant departments.

To learn about the details of this program, please visit at http://www.bjchp.org/oldbeijing/

In our last issue of Heritage Update, we appealed to the Minister of Commerce to spare from demolition the two handsome buildings built in the 1950s that front on Chang An Avenue. No final response has yet been given to our appeal, but we are very much heartened that the Information Office of the Ministry of Commerce has contacted us several times with regard to this issue. In the course of these contacts, the affection which the staff of the Ministry have for the two buildings and their respect for cultural heritage conservation is obvious. In the near future senior officers of the Ministry will be meeting with CHP to discuss a solution. We will keep you updated on developments.

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