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Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin’s former residence

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Historical context

Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin were two of the most famous Chinese architects of the 20th Century.

Liang and Lin lived at No. 24 Beizongbu Hutong (formerly No. 3) for seven years (1930-1937), 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, and other valuable cultural relics.  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 seven years Lin and Liang spent in Beizongbu Hutong are some of the most important times in Chinese architectural history.

Pressures on Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin’s former residence
General damage and renovation of the 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.  Currently, Number 24 is merely a vestige of its former self, one step away from ceasing to exist entirely.

Demolition threat

Despite the historical significance of the residence, Beizongbu Hutong was not an officially protected site, and about three years ago a real estate development company  was granted a permit to demolish the area. Despite this threat, the Cultural Heritage Department did not take legal action to prevent the imminent destruction.

CHP’s work

In 2009, in response to the impending full destruction of the former residence and the government’s lack of action,  CHP published its first article about preserving this culturally invaluable site.

After CHP brought attention to the status of the former residence, the public and media became strongly involved to preserve it. Media including People’s Daily, CCTV, Guangming Daily, clearly stated their criticism towards the destruction

In July 2009, the highest administration of cultural heritage affairs in China— the National Bureau of Cultural Relics stated publically that Liang and Lin’s former residence was an important monument, and should be adaptively protected. Under this pressure, 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 was just the first step in truly addressing the issue, it has showed that when people, law, and media unite, they can make great progress and achieve goals.

CHP held a forum entitled, “The Protection of Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin’s Former Residence and its Relation to the Construction of Civil Society.” During this forum it was decided to make a short documentary to raise an awareness about the residence.

On 1 October 2009, the government introduced a new legislation, called Provisional Regulations Governing the Management of the Designation of Cultural Relics. According to the law, if the people or organizations want to recognize an object or a location as a cultural relic or raise the status of a cultural relic, they can present a formal request in writing to the local government’s Cultural Protection Department.

Since the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage was yet to classify the area as a ‘cultural relic’, thereby ensuring its legal protection in accordance with the People’s Republic of China Cultural Preservation Law, on October 20 2009, CHP volunteers Zhang Pei and He Muren, and five other Beijing residents submited an application to recognize Liang Sicheng’s and Lin Huiyin’s former home as a cultural relic. The Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage unexpectedly rejected their application. The residents then appealed to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage to review the application.

In February 2010, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage released an ‘Administrative Reconsideration Letter of Decision’, which stated that the previous decision was incorrect and ordered city officials to assign the former residence of Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin as a protected monument.

This decision represented a great victory for city residents. It was the first case of administrative redress since the Provisional Regulations Governing the Management of the Designation of Cultural Relics legislation was implemented.

At the same time, the protection that the architects’ former residence enjoys under the Cultural Relics Protection Law, though useful, does not mean it will receive appropriate protection. The implementation of laws in China cannot occur without people’s supervision.

Our next objective is to push the government to make the former residence an official cultural heritage site protected at the provincial level. Otherwise, the future of the former residence of Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin will remain uncertain.

Two volunteers from the architectural department of Tsinghua University have also developed a protection plan.  They hope that the commemorative museum will, on a low budget, be interactive and fashionable and become a lively community hub.

This has been a very important case for China. On one hand, it proves just how powerful public participation is, while on the other hand we must soberly recognize that the preservation of the residence is only half finished and there is still much work to be done!

Current status of the residence

CHP has continued its dialogue, and recently held a lecture entitled ‘Protecting the Former Residence of Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin – The Power of Public Participation’ at UCCA.

Worryingly, the follow-up preservation work for the residence is still yet to begin and in August found a demolition notice on the wall of the house. Read The Global Times article Bulldozers menace architect home.

CHP articles about Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin’s former residence

CHP articles about the Provisional Regulations Governing the Management of the Designation of Cultural Relics

To see the “Provisional Regulations Governing the Management of the Designation of Cultural Relics” in full, please visit http://www.sach.gov.cn/tabid/314/InfoID/20896/Default.aspx.

Short documentary

Watch the short documentary made by CHP volunteers to create awareness about this important case.

Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin’s former residence in the media

【2010-12-08】Global Times‘Protected’ status still not enough for courtyards

【2010-09-16】Global Times | Bulldozers menace architect home

【2010-1-19】Global Times | In the nick of time

【2010-1-8】China Daily | Noted Couple’s Home Saved from Bulldozer

【2010-1-8】People’s Daily Online | Former Liang Sicheng Residence Confirmed as “Immovable Cultural Heritage”

【2009-12-17】China Radio International | Former residence of historical figures in Beijing

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