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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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Demolition of Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Trade Buildings

In the early years following the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China, a group of architects sought to embody the artistry and style of the Chinese people in their contemporary architectural designs.  The result was the construction of some fine buildings that incorporated regional and traditional elements. The two most outstanding examples of this effort dating from the 1950s are Shanghai’s Memorial Hall of Lu Xun and Beijing’s Ministry of Foreign Trade Bureau (now site of the Ministry of Commerce or MOFCOM). The Ministry of Foreign Trade Buildings, designed by Mr. Xu Zhong and built in 1954, adopted a northern vernacular architectural style, using gray brick and tiles, curved roof lines, out-reaching eaves, traditional balustrades, and pure lines to create a modern building for public administrative use.

Xu Zhong was born in 1912 in Jiangsu, graduated from the Faculty of Architecture of Central University in 1937, and earned a Master’s Degree in architecture from the University of Illinois. Returning to China in 1939, he taught at Central University and the University of Nanjing. In addition to a number of buildings that he designed on his own, he was part of the design team for the People’s Hero Monument on Tian’anmen Square, and the Beijing Library before his death in 1985.

Unfortunately, in recent years the main original Ministry of Foreign Trade building was demolished to make room for new office space. The two surviving buildings, “Men Lian”, were located opposite Oriental Plaza Mall and gave Chang’an Avenue an aesthetically pleasing touch of traditional culture. In July 2006, CHP learned that there were plans to demolish the surviving “Men Lian” buildings, as part of an effort to show off the newly built Ministry of Commerce building and to modernize Chang’an Avenue.  CHP immediately and publicly opposed these development plans and called on the Ministry of Commerce and the Beijing Municipal Government to retain the culturally significant “Men Lian” buildings.

We received an overwhelmingly positive response from the Ministry of Commerce. They respected CHP’s view that the protection of cultural heritage is important and expressed their own dissatisfaction with the current situation. This was greatly encouraging to us. However, after more than 6 months of hard work, we never received a precise answer from either the Ministry of Commerce or the Beijing Municipal Government as to whether or not they would protect the original “Men Lian” buildings.

So how did we break the silence? We decided to obtain the perspective and knowledge of political consultants. We would like to thank Mr. Su Shishu and 14 other members of the CPPCC National Committee for their expert advice in relation to this matter. In March 2007, when the Fifth Session of the Tenth CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) National Committee was held in Beijing, our proposal to protect “Men Lian” was on file for review. The proposal states that: Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center recognizes the original “Men Lian” buildings; deems the plans to tear them down as inappropriate; and requests these buildings be preserved, possibly to house a museum. In the proposal, CHP requested the Ministry of Commerce, the Beijing Municipal Government and PRC State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) to make a joint effort to put an end to the planned destruction.

We finally received a reply from the Ministry of Commerce. The Ministry of Commerce holds the opinion that since the “Men Lian” buildings are state-owned, any decision in relation to them should be managed by the State Council. SACH stated that the cultural heritage value of these buildings should be recognized and declared as an “officially protected heritage building” by the Beijing Municipal Government. We were also informed by the Beijing Municipal Government that since the buildings are located on Chang’an Avenue, the priority lies with the planning requirements of the street, so the demolition would go ahead. This reply was distressing, left us dissatisfied and drowned our spirits.

But we had not yet given up on our efforts to save “Men Lian”. Since the most important slogan for the Olympics is ensuring social harmony and stability, we believed we could attempt to use the most “harmonious” approach to convince the Government not to demolish the two buildings.  We hoped we could use the “Cultural Olympics” concept to save these treasured buildings.

The second Saturday of June each year is China’s Cultural Heritage Day. On the third Saturday of June this year, we saw a bulldozer knock down the original “Men Lian” buildings, completely destroying all traces of the PRC’s original Foreign Trade Bureau. We are told that Beijing will have to stop all construction projects by late July in order to meet the Olympic Games. By then, flowers and trees will be planted on the original “Men Lian” plot, apparently to give Chang’an Avenue a newer, more modern look. At CHP, we are deeply saddened by the loss of these unique buildings, marking a site of historical and cultural significance to Beijing people.

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