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The Beijing Cultural Heritage Department Permits Destruction of Former Residences of Famous Architects

Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin were two of the most famous Chinese architects of the 20th Century.  They designed the national emblem and the Monument to the People’s Heroes.  The highest award in China for architectural design is also named after Liang Sicheng.

In 1930, Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin left Shenyang for Beijing (then Beiping) and established their residence at No. 24 Beizongbu Hutong (formerly No. 3).  The next year, Liang entered the China Building Society, an NGO that was aimed at preserving traditional architecture.  He became the director of the Specifications Department and conducted serious, in-depth research into ancient Chinese architecture.  At that time, war was affecting every part of the country, but despite the risks Liang and Lin boldly ventured out of Beijing to conduct their research.  In 1937, Liang and Lin fled Beiping because of the Japanese invasion.  They were never to return to Beizongbu Hutong again.

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Liang and Lin lived in Beizongbu Hutong for over six years and during that time conducted research that resulted in the discovery of the Zhaozhou Bridge, the oldest open-spandrel stone segmental arch bridge in the world that dates back 1400 years, Buddhist temples that date back to the Liao Dynasty among other valuable cultural relics that all Chinese can be proud of.  Liang and Lin based their authoritative tome, Chinese Architectural History, on the knowledge and information that they gathered during their time living in Beizongbu Hutong.  The two architects later provided information to the military during World War II and the Chinese Civil War to prevent the destruction of culturally significant structures.  The list of cultural artifacts that Lin and Liang gave the military during the Civil War is recognized by experts as the first such compilation in Chinese history and formed the foundation for the cultural protection lists later on.  It is doubtless that the six years Lin and Liang spent in Beizongbu Hutong are some of the most important times in Chinese architectural history.  Their residence should also be considered a national landmark like many of the places that they protected.  Preserving this site would serve as a reminder to all people of Lin and Liang’s hard work .  It is the government’s responsibility to keep this spirit alive by protecting their former residence.

Until 20 years ago, Beizongbu Hutong was still a perfectly-preserved siheyuan courtyard.  Later on, however, a house was constructed in the middle, festooned doors were added, and the eastern rooms were destroyed. About two years ago, a real estate development company finally was granted the permit to demolish the area.  Currently, Number 24 is merely a vestige of its former self, one step away from ceasing to exist entirely.

This type of occurrence is common in Beijing, a city overrun by corrupt officials and black-hearted businessmen.  The destruction and disappearance of cultural artifacts happens everyday in this ancient capital. But what makes this crime especially revolting is the complete lack of concern the Cultural Heritage Department has shown toward the residence of such architectural luminaries.  Even though Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin are internationally-renowned architects and, therefore, their residences should be preserved, the Cultural Heritage Department has so far taken absolutely no legal action to prevent the destruction.  The laws on cultural heritage protection have not changed drastically over the last 20 years, but they have always demanded that sites of historical value be protected.  Beizongbu Hutong has never been recognized as an officially protected site despite its obvious cultural significance.  Now that Beizongbu Hutong stands on the edge of literal oblivion, who can we hold responsible?

The law of the PRC states that those government officials who neglect their duties are to be appropriately punished in criminal court.  The officials working in the Beijing Cultural Heritage Department have neglected their duties and allowed the “legal” destruction of a cultural relic.  We are requesting that the government pursue legal action against the person responsible for committing this crime against Chinese cultural heritage.

CHP would like to thank our translator volunteer, Michele Scrimenti, for his outstanding translation of this article. It is his help that enables CHP to update the audience around the world with cultural heritage protection news in China.

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