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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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Saving the Ministry of Commerce Buildings:Latest Developments

Last July, we posted an open letter on our website (see July 2007 Heritage update: More Historic Beijing Buildings Endangered?) to Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai, protesting the Ministry’s intention to tear down the two classic 1950s buildings that sit in front of the modern Ministry of Commerce headquarters on Chang’an Avenue. CHP implored the Minister to preserve the buildings as an example of Chinese architecture of that period.

Fortunately, many Ministry of Commerce officials supported CHP’s position and felt that the buildings should be preserved.  They also deplored the lack of historical conservation in Beijing. Nonetheless, six months passed with no definitive response about the buildings. All too often in China, even legally protected and significant buildings can suddenly disappear overnight, razed to the ground before anyone can intervene. These two historic buildings are therefore at even more risk as they are not yet legally protected. Minister Bo Xilai himself maintained silence on the issue.

How to break the silence and bring the issue to a satisfactory resolution? CHP decided to make use of China’s political consultative system, which is a basic part of the country’s governing system. Members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC), either individually or as a group, have the right to raise issues with relevant government units. The way to do this is to send a written proposal, to which the concerned unit must respond within a stipulated period of time. If aspects of the CPPCC members’ proposal are not adopted, then the unit must specify in its response the reasons for not taking action in accordance with the proposal.

CHP expresses its sincerest appreciation to Mr. Su Shishu and the other fifteen CPPCC members who signed this resolution. The resolution has now been forwarded by the CPPCC to the Ministry of Commerce, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, and the Beijing City Government. In the resolution, the fifteen members wrote that they had been informed by CHP of the impending demolition of the Ministry of Commerce buildings. They said that they felt such demolition was inappropriate and unwise, and insisted that the buildings should be preserved, suggesting that they could be used as a museum for displays of traditional Chinese commerce and commercial brands. Finally, they expressed hope that the Ministry of Commerce, the Beijing City government, and State Administration of Cultural Heritage will work together to these ends.

By the end of this summer, these concerned government departments will need to provide a written response to the CPPCC. We are confident that the State Administration of Cultural Heritage will fully support the stand of the CPPCC members. We hope that the resolution of the CPPCC will preserve the buildings and use them as a museum related to the work of the Ministry of Commerce.

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