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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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Preserve the former residence of two of China’s greatest architects

This summer, the city of Beijing has seen a new force on its ancient streets: committed citizens sweating for the sake of their cultural heritage. No. 24 Beizongbu Hutong, located in the middle of Old Beijing, was once the home of two of China’s most famous architects, Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin. Due to the local government’s indifference and passivity, their former residence is only a step away from demolition. The public is becoming aware of this and is highly critical of the wanton destruction of former residences of important cultural figures.

After several media outlets, including CCTV and the People’s Daily, voiced their opposition to the demolition of Beizongbu Hutong, the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage announced that it would not let the residence be destroyed. According to their new plan for the area, Liang Sicheng’s former residence was guaranteed protection and the government agency invited several scholars to participate in researching ways to protect the courtyard. Although this is just the first step in truly addressing the issue, it has shown that when people, law, and media unite, we can make great progress and achieve our goals. The preservation of Liang Sicheng’s former residence, which had already nearly been destroyed, has brought together people from all backgrounds and unleashed the potential of Chinese civil society.

After the movement to protect Liang Sicheng’s former residence gained momentum, Shan Jixiang, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, said, “If we create and raise to a high level the entire society’s consciousness of cultural heritage preservation, and if we mobilize the people, guaranteeing that they are the genuine owners of their cultural heritage, then we will be able to effectively protect that cultural heritage.”

On the CHP website, a blogger wrote: “Whenever I hear of cultural heritage, my heart aches. Why do we only appreciate what we have after it’s gone? I don’t want to talk about it anymore. The more I talk, the more it hurts.” We have noticed that many people go to tour former residences, which are still in disrepair, and are all thinking about one problem: when the former residences of great people are destroyed, government departments are responsible, but what should we ourselves be doing?

Recently, the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center held a forum entitled, “The Protection of Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin’s Former Residence and its Relation to the Construction of Civil Society.” Participants believed that expressing regrets and complaining was a totally inadequate response to cultural heritage destruction. The success in protecting Liang and Lin’s house shows that strong public action can progress the cause of cultural heritage protection in a concrete way. In the course of animated discussion, participants also expressed their hope that the former residence could not only be preserved, but also become a memorial to the cultural heritage preservation achievements of Liang and Lin. The memorial would serve as a place for visitors to reflect on the contributions these two made to Chinese architectural history and preservation, and realize the value of cultural heritage protection and their own personal responsibility to society. That would be a fitting way to commemorate these two great architects.

The Beijing Bureau of Cultural Heritage intends to invite experts to participate in studying the issue of preservation of the former residences of important figures in Chinese history. CHP recommends to the Bureau of Cultural Heritage: the public can prevent the destruction of former residences, and the public can make valuable suggestions on how to best protect these former residences. Therefore the public should participate with experts in the investigation of how to protect former residences.

CHP would like to thank our volunteer translator, Michele Scrimenti, for his outstanding translation of this article.

 
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