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Bulldozers menace architect home

Global Times by Huang Shaojie, Thursday 16 September

Liang Sicheng's partly destroyed residence at 24 Beizongbu Hutong Photo: IC

Liang Sicheng's partly destroyed residence at 24 Beizongbu Hutong Photo: IC

The threat of development has returned to a supposedly State-protected historic courtyard and former residence of modern China’s greatest architect less than a year after popular objections kept the bulldozers at bay.

“We found a new demolition notice on the wall of the house in August,” said Lily Wu, managing director of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, Wednesday.

The center has been unable to confirm if any government has authorized the demolition after media exposure pressured the city to put redevelopment on hold in July last year.

Officials of the Dongcheng district housing authority, which appears in the signature line of the notice, could not be reached Wednesday.

“The Hongtong Tower property developer has commissioned Dongzhan demolition company to finish demolition of the affected area in Beizongbu Hutong,” the May 17 notice reads.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage ruled on December 31 the former residence of Liang Sicheng and first wife Lin Huiyin from 1931 to 1937 should be designated a cultural relic.

“Apparently the city and district authorities have done nothing,” Wu said, “and the courtyard is not an officially endorsed site yet despite the State government ruling.”

A total 308 residences of historically interesting individuals were identified in the old city quarter by 2005 government research. Of these, 189 received no protection and 97 have been torn down, according to the research.

Dongcheng district culture authority said it had submitted the courtyard for protection to the city administration, but the city has no such record, according to center volunteers.

Liang is known among old Beijingers for unsuccessfully speaking out against the tearing down of the city walls to make way for 1950s socialism.

Beijing’s cultural preservation official Wang Yuwei was reported as saying in July last year the architectural value of what remains of Liang’s residence was “questionable,” while the individual who lived in an old house is irrelevant to China’s cultural heritage law, according the Beijing News.

“It’s a shame a cultural official would say something like that,” said center founder He Shuzhong. “The law specifically states the value of cultural heritage lies in its historical, aesthetic or scientific significance. The fact Liang lived there for six years lends it extraordinary historical value, if nothing else.”

The preservation of Liang’s house also has a profound symbolic dimension as he was first to warn against the mass demolition of old Beijing, said Luke Lee, an engineer at Tsinghua’s School of Architecture.

Liang’s pioneering work on the architectural traditions of ancient China set the groundwork for architecture as a scientific discipline here, Lee said.

Liang helped judge candidate designs for the UN headquarters building in New York and his advice in 1944 proved critical to preventing the Allied bombing of Kyoto and Nara.

But he did not save Beijing.

When Liang proposed building new urban areas outside the old city in 1950, the government ignored him. He died on January 9, 1972.

A statement from the Cultural Heritage Protection Center calls the partial destruction of 24 Beizongbu Hutong since the 1980s “a crime.”

“Indifference and contempt for culture on the part of the city government has left Liang’s house in neglect for 20 years,” it reads.

Read the original article.

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