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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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Capital Conversations – The Lowdown

On the afternoon of 23 May, nearly 100 passionate Beijingers gathered to listen to and participate in an absorbing roundtable discussion about cultural heritage preservation, hosted by the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP).

IMG_4149There was a buzz around the sold out event, and the afternoon lived up to expectations with people leaving with a better understanding of cultural heritage preservation in China. The people who attended came from a range of backgrounds: NGOs, architecture firms, media, universities, and the general public. This diversity highlighted the many different faces of conservation, and the attendance of so many key stakeholders was very positive for CHP.

The speakers for the event were:

  • Mr. Ted Plafker, Beijing Correspondent for The Economist
  • Dr. Li Luke, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University
  • Mr. Deng Jia Qi, Retired Professor and Beijing Resident
  • Jim Stent, Director, CHP.

After short introductions by Michelle Garnaut, owner of Capital M and Wu Lili, CHP’s Managing Director, the speakers began the discussion – led by moderator Susan Osman, host of “The Beijing Hour” with China Radio International (CRI).

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After providing the audience with various definitions of ‘cultural heritage preservation’, four main questions guided the speakers:

1. China takes pride in its 5,000 years of cultural history, and it has enacted good laws to protect its physical cultural heritage. Why, however, is so much being destroyed in Beijing and elsewhere in the country?

2. Why should we save the hutongs? A lot of people living in them want to move out. Is this some elitist romantic notion?

3. If we do want to save the hutongs, how do we in practical terms go about do it?

4. Are there models in the world for urban cultural heritage preservation that China should emulate?

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A variety of ideas and comments arose from the discussion, with constructive input from all the panelists. Some of the topics included:

  • What is a hutong – is it the physical structures or the actual lifestyle found in Beijing’s alleyways?
  • Reasons for the rapid demolition of cultural heritage sites in Beijing, including the influence of real estate developers and rapid rate of urbanization.
  • Attitude of local Chinese people and the media, and how China’s history, especially the Cultural Revolution, have affected the perception of, and emotional attachment to cultural heritage preservation.
  • Possibility and practicality of retrofitting existing structures and how other successful world cities, including Venice and Paris, have approached this issue
  • How successful world cities are the cities that developed organically – where the old and the new cross paths.

Although there was only a short time for questions, many hands were raised to hear more from the panelists. Questions included the Gulou plan, thoughts on what Beijing will look like in 10 years, and a variety of other interesting topics.

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The event finished with a brief but passionate speech by CHP’s founder Mr He Shuzhong. After the conclusion, most people stayed to discuss cultural heritage preservation with the panelists and other audience members. We hope that their discussion of this vital topic will continue beyond the event to help create more awareness about cultural heritage preservation in China.

A white paper will be produced by CHP following the proceedings of Capital Conversations, and put forward to the government and media on the NGO’s vision of Old Beijing, It will emphasise a positive outlook for Beijing that meets the requirements for economic development, upgrading standards of housing and environment, and preservation of historical value and authenticity.

Many people living in Beijing are from all over the world. Despite whether people stay in China permanently, or end up in other countries, memories of Beijing are connected to people and places and experiences like the May 23 discussion. Thank you to everyone who attended Capital Conversations – we hope to see you again at future CHP events!

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CHP would like to thank these people for helping make Capital Conversations such a success:

  • Susan Osman (moderator)
  • Mr. Ted Plafker (panelist)
  • Dr. Li Luke (panelist)
  • Mr. Deng Jia Qi (panelist)
  • Mr. Jim Stent (panelist)
  • Michelle Garnaut and the team at Capital M (sponsor)
  • Time-Out (media sponsor)
  • NLGX Design (corporate partner)
  • Wang Gang (translator)
  • Li Ruoran, Emily Li, Zhao Hang, Tzyy Wang, Kaying Lau, and Linda Wang (CHP volunteers and supporters)
  • Our patrons
  • And everyone who attended!

Read more about the event:

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