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“Friends of Old Beijing” Project: The Report Evaluating the Condition of the Protection of Old Beijing (Abstract)

Recently a group of motivated citizens attended an event held for the protection of Old Beijing and to encourage the relevant government administrative offices to strengthen its measures in protecting Old Beijing. The Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, in September 2006, with “that’s Beijing” magazine, started the “Friends of Old Beijing” project. The first phase of the project was the ten months before June 9, 2007 (China’s second “Cultural Heritage Day”). There were two parts to the work in the first stage. The first part was to invite knowledgeable experts to present, in a series of lectures, regarding protecting old Beijing. These lectures were oriented for the ordinary citizen and were open freely to everyone. The second part was regarding the laws protecting Old Beijing and the evaluation of the standards of the current development plan. The organization has trained seventy volunteers to investigate the state and condition of Old Beijing’s protected cultural heritage areas. Combined with results from other investigations, the organization has produced an evaluative report discussing the heritage protection situation in Old Beijing and submitted it to the Beijing Municipal Government, as well as the Beijing People’s Congress and the Beijing People’s Political Consultative Committee.

The “Friends of Old Beijing” project believes that the Beijing city authorities have made a very strong effort in protecting Old Beijing:
“Conservation Planning of 25 Historic Areas in Beijing Old City” was established in February 2002;
“Conservation Plan for the Historic City of Beijing” was established in October 2002;
“Conservation Plan for the Imperial City of Beijing” was established in April 2003;
“The Provision for the Protection and Restoration of Houses in Protected Cultural Heritage Areas of Old Beijing” was established in December 2003;
“The Standard for the Repair and Restoration of Houses in the Protected Cultural Heritage Areas of Old Beijing” was established in April 2004;
“The Regulations for the Protection of Beijing’s Famous Cultural Heritage Sites” was established in May 2005.
In June of 2006, the Party Secretary of Beijing, Liu Qi, also emphasized in a public statement, “Protecting the appearance and qualities of the Old Capital in Beijing has a very important current and long lasting historical purpose. The appearance and qualities of the old capital are currently a valuable and non-competitive resource for the sustainable development of Beijing.” Because of a series of important measures have been brought forward, the circumstance in which Old Beijing might be quickly destroyed are starting to change. There are also many officials in the relevant government administrative offices who are already starting to think about the outlook and destiny of Old Beijing.
Although the situation has improved, the “Friends of Old Beijing” group still believes that within the various dimensions in the protection of Old Beijing, there still exists protective measures that are very clearly insufficient. Some very serious problems still exist, as stated in the following:
1.)    Despite the fact that hundreds of ancient structures have already been assigned to belong to one of the three protection levels, there are still many buildings that are not being cared for properly. The safety of these structures, from harm, is still in jeopardy. Some of the repair and reconstruction projects do not abide by the regulations for protecting places of historical significance. Therefore, serious harm has been brought about to the historical and artistic value of some of these ancient structures.
2.)    Taking the Forbidden City as the center, and the central axis line as the design foundation, the Imperial City has been planned in a way to lay out the imperial palace gardens, warehouses for imperial supply, government offices, imperial temples and alters, and the Si He Yuan type places in a systematic manner to show the concept that the emperor’s power was supreme. However, there is no overall coordination for the protection of the imperial city. There are still too many places where the common citizen is still forbidden to enter. There are many very important ancient structures that have sustained serious damage. The height, design, and appearance of new buildings that are constantly being built do not fit being around the imperial palace.
3.)    Although the most current scientific protection measures are in place for all the historical protection districts, these programs are not always strictly followed. Furthermore, the repair and restoration projects for many of the courtyards and houses in the hutongs do not strictly follow the guidelines in the above mentioned measures. Large scale illegal demolition and construction projects have even expanded into many of the significantly protected cultural heritage sites.
4.)    The complete city layout is a key component of the cultural heritage value of Beijing Old City. “Conservation Plan for the Historic City of Beijing” emphasized that protection of Old Beijing must be considered holistically. It included controls on the height and design that could be used for buildings in the old city, protection of the border of the Old City, which is shaped like the Chinese character “凸” (tu), and also for the protection of the scenic views within the old city. However, the controls for the design and height of buildings within the old city and the characteristic shape of the old city have already been violated in some areas. The unique scenery within the old city still faces the threat of shrinking day by day.
5.)    Protecting the traditional way of life of Old Beijing is also very important. But, in the near future, there has not been any kind of expressed desire to protect the contents and functions of the temples and theaters that were so essential to tradition life. Many of the unique management and operational styles of the traditional Beijing businesses are disappearing. Too many bars, coffee shops, and other outside businesses are appearing in the protected historical areas. Finally, the once serene atmosphere of the hutongs is now currently becoming louder and noisier.
To resolve the remaining problems regarding Old Beijing, the “Friends of Old Beijing” project has come up with the following recommendations.
1)    To recommend that all applicable departments within the city government, undergo strict reviews on the cases included in this report, and to undertake sufficient steps to remedy any cultural heritage protection problems if found.
2)    To recommend that the Beijing People’s Congress and Beijing People’s Political Consultative Committee start to develop specific law enforcement inspections in accordance to “The Regulations for the Protection of Beijing’s Famous Cultural Heritage Sites” and to invite other organizations, experts, and the news media to become involved as well.
3)    To recommend that all applicable departments within the city government, with the help of experts, develop a specific plan for the protected historical areas, in regards to the layout of businesses.
4)    To recommend that the city government research ways to improve “The Regulations for the Protection of Beijing’s Famous Cultural Heritage Sites” and “The Program for the Protection of Beijing’s Famous Cultural Heritage Sites”, especially research for all applicable department within the city government and all applicable local governments into how to best divide roles and procedures implementing the programs for the protection of Old Beijing, and from that foundation to establish a system of responsibility and oversight for work done on protecting Old Beijing.
5)    To recommend that the city government entrust all applicable organizations to start research for “Economic Policy on the Protection of Old Beijing”, especially raising the issues of land use, the sale of real estate, changing tax laws, and market entry standards to promote steps for the protection of the old city
6)    To recommend that the city government compile a “Pamphlet for the Cadres on the Protection of Old Beijing”, and to require all workers within the applicable departments within the city and local government to carefully read and study.
7)    To recommend the communication department of the government to start publicizing a system of educational outreach programs regarding the protection of the old city for residents, and to recommend the Department of Education to put a basic plan regarding the protection of the old city into the course materials of middle and elementary schools.
“The Friends of Old Beijing” program currently is on the verge of starting onto the second phase. The first main focus of the work is to continue research into the condition of the protection within Old Beijing. The second main focus is to start extensive educational programs. The third main focus is to use legal means to help the government in establishing the authority of the laws that protect Old Beijing.
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