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Celebrity Homes get protection status

March 9, 2011

China Daily by Qin Zhongwei, Photograph provided by China Daily

Two men walk past the old residence of Cai Yuanpei, former president of Peking University, in Dongtanyu Hutong. Provided to China Daily

Two men walk past the old residence of Cai Yuanpei, former president of Peking University, in Dongtanyu Hutong. Provided to China Daily

Historic homes once owned by some of Beijing’s most influential people were added to a list of the capital’s most valued cultural heritage sites on Monday.

About half of the 31 city-level relics on Beijing’s latest protection list are either siheyuan (courtyard houses) or the former homes of famous figures, such as Cai Yuanpei, ex-president of Peking University, and noted lawyer Zhang ShiZhao. Also featured is the old Quanjude Roast Duck store in Qianmen.

It is the eighth time the municipal administration of cultural heritage has identified city-level protection sites. Most of those selected in the past have been temples or ancient tombs, according to the agency’s website.

It has taken more than three years for officials to make their selections from almost 100 candidates spread across Beijing’s nine districts and suburban counties, said Bi Jianyu in the administration’s cultural heritage protection department.

“The lists are composed of district-level cultural heritage sites, cultural relics sites that experts recommended and new relics found during the third National Survey of Cultural Relics, which was launched in 2007,” he added.

Beijing now has six World Cultural Heritage sites, including the Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven; 98 State-level sites, such as the Lama Temple and Tian’anmen Square, and 255 city-level sites.

The city government has pledged to maintain its annual investment into protecting and renovating its relics at 150 million yuan, said Kong Fanzhi, director of the culture administration.

History fans welcomed the new additions but also expressed hopes that the authorities will carry out more timely methods to protect treasured relics, especially as there are still many traditional residences missed off the list.

“(Historical buildings) are vanishing rapidly as the massive reconstruction of the old city goes on,” warned Zhang Wei, founder of oldbeijing.net, a website dedicated to preserving the capital’s memories.

The culture administration is now researching the feasibility of issuing a law on how to manage and protect former residences of the rich and famous.

Based on an official 2005 citywide survey, roughly 30 percent of these landmark homes have already been demolished, with 30 percent in poor condition due to large households living in small courtyards, according to reports by China Culture News.

However, Zhang told METRO that there are still no accurate figures on how many old residences are still standing. “The major headache is how to define ‘celebrity’. Some famous person’s residence may have been razed to the ground because he or she was not considered a celebrity by official standards. It’s a real pity,” he added.

The significance of preserving celebrity homes is not only about the architecture or the courtyard houses, but also about understanding what these people’s lives were actually like, said Tan Yaning, a volunteer at the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center.

She once proposed to redesign Liang Sicheng’s former residence.

Although one of China’s most famous architects, Liang’s old home in Beizongbu Hutong is in poor condition and once faced demolition by developers as it is not listed on the official protection list.

“These homes carry more cultural meaning, which is the most important reason why we should maintain them well,” Tan added.

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