About CHP

Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP) is a small grassroots, legally-registered NGO working to protect cultural heritage across China.

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Heritage Trail project

What Are We Doing To Preserve The Old City?

As a non-governmental organization that has been officially registered and been licensed to operate, our work rests on the basis of law, and on the legally constituted plans of the government for heritage protection. With regard to the protection of the old city of Beijing, our work is based on the national level “Cultural Heritage Protection Law” and the “Urban Planning Law”, plus the Beijing City level “The Historical and Cultural City Act” and the various plans of different periods for the protection of the old city.
We believe that there are two types of activities for the protection of the Old City of Beijing—stopping destruction and increasing protection. At the present time the more important of the two is the stopping of destruction. People and activities destroying the old city are numerous. The people undertaking the destruction are extremely powerful and privileged. Whether because of personal gain or because of ignorance, they are doing a lot to ruin the old city. Particularly destructive is the construction of buildings that destroy the traditional face of the old city.
Given the present political system and legal environment, we do not yet have the capability to investigate the perpetrators of this destruction, who should bear responsibility under the law. But we do have a simple and straightforward method, which is to tell the residents of Beijing, visitors, and all who are concerned with the protection of the city, who it is that is wrecking this destruction and how they do it.
To protect the old city we are now undertaking a work entitled “What is destroying Old Beijing: the top 100 offending buildings”.  On the basis of the fundamental requirements of the protection plans of different periods, we are methodically investigating and assessing all the buildings that are destroying the traditional appearance of the old city, and from amongst all of them we shall choose the worst 100. For each of these top offenders, we shall reveal the name of the building, its location, accompanied by a photo, and an explanation of the reason why it made the “top 100″, and to the best of our ability we shall attempt to reveal the name of the developer and architect, and the name of the individual or unit that approved the building’s construction. This project will be made into an electronic document and made public on our web site, and will make it available without cost to other web sites for their use as well.  Based on public feedback, we shall revise the document and publish it in print form. We hope that the smooth execution of this project will move the people of Beijing to exert pressure on the individuals who are destroying the old city of Beijing, and enable them to have some restraining influence over their activities.
In the execution of this project, we have encountered some difficulties. The owners of buildings that exceed Beijing height restrictions refuse to give us accurate information on the height of their buildings. In our surveying of the height of these buildings, we are now using some rather out of date methods, causing the work to proceed too slowly.  We hope that perhaps some of you may be able to assist us in moving this project forward.

China Adopts Icon and Song for Cultural Heritage Protection Campaign

In the past, we mentioned that China is seriously considering establishing a Cultural Heritage Protection Day to promote the right attitude towards traditional culture. As far as we know, the legal process of launching a Cultural Heritage Protection Day is progressing smoothly, and it is very likely to become official this year.
 
At the same time, we have received further good news relevant to this project. First of all, the highest administrative section of Chinese cultural heritage protection – the National Administration on Cultural Heritage – announced a cultural heritage protection icon. The pattern in the center of this icon is modeled after the archaeological findings from the Sichuan Jinsha Remnants. The National Authorities hope that, with the adoption of this new icon, more and more people will become aware of the cultural heritage concept, and start to treasure and protect it.
 
The National Authorities also hope that the younger generation will develop a passion to protect China’s culture heritage. To encourage this, they have written a new song named “Treasure” that is sung by a famous pop star. (Click the attached file for a trial version). Among the commercial advertisements  in the popular mass media will be the message of cultural heritage protection: a rational perception on the present situation of our country. During music programs, will be the cultural heritage protection song, which assures us of the responsible performances of this nation for the cultural succession of mankind.

Great Wall Legislation

The Great Wall is perhaps the single greatest international symbol of China. It is a source of tremendous pride for the Chinese people and an important part of the  nation’s cultural heritage.  Yet the Great Wall has suffered great devastation over the years, principally due to four factors:
  1. Engineering projects, such as rail lines, that cross through the Great Wall.
  2. Inappropriate tourism development projects that have wrought destruction on some parts of the Wall.
  3. Chaotic administration of the Great Wall on the part of government authorities.
  4. Raids of the Great Wall by local people for earth, stone and brick to use in their villages and farms.
Additional to these four factors are also the well-meaning but ill-conceived Great Wall restoration projects. In the Beijing area there are several examples of damaging restoration projects of wild sections of the Great Wall.  The work has been done with inferior materials and poor workmanship, creating Great Wall sections that look brand new, have no sense of historical authenticity, and give a misleading impression of the Great Wall to visitors.
 
To prevent further deterioration and destruction of the Great Wall, the national government has just announced the Great Wall Protection Regulations. For a copy in Chinese, please visit http://www.gov.cn/ziliao/flfg/2006-10/23/content_421000.htm
 
Although these proposed regulations will not immediately improve the condition of the Great Wall, it stills gives hope for its future. The following are clauses of particular importance to the public and also civil society organizations:
 
  • Particular organizations and units  are now responsible for the protection of the Great Wall. This allows citizens to report problems, make proposals or recommendations, consult and discuss, and to demand accountability from these organisations concerning the protection of the Great Wall. Although China cannot yet be said to be a country governed by rule of law in the fullest sense of the term, citizens and civil society organizations now have the right to demand performance under the law of officially designated Great Wall protection organizations.
  • The regulations permit the public and civil society organizations to collect donations to establish foundations that protect the Great Wall. Fundraising activities and the management of foundations must conform to the rules and regulations governing civil society.  Granting permission for the establishment of these foundations is a major breakthrough. Operating through these foundations, the public can become directly involved in Great Wall preservation projects.
  • The regulations guarantee the rights of ordinary citizens to become involved in a positive way with Great Wall protection. When citizens discover any destruction, they can report this to responsible organizations, and those organizations are required to respond appropriately by reporting the matter to their superiors. Failure to respond promptly can make the organization subject to penalty. In addition, these organizations can arrange citizen volunteer networks to patrol and look after the Great Wall (and will receive official subsidies for their efforts). This is of particular significance for the farming communities located along the Great Wall.
CHP believes that the government, the people, and civil society organizations all have a duty to protect the Great Wall. CHP intends to cooperate with other organizations and the public to promote the protection of the Great Wall under the provisions of these newly published regulations.

Obliteration of the Distinctive Contour of the Old City of Beijing

On 18 September 2002, the municipal government of Beijing announced    “The Plan for the Protection of the Historical City of Beijing”, which set forth three clear provisions for the preservation of the distinctive contour of the Old City resembling the shape of  the Chinese character “凸”. The regulations stipulate that:
  • a green belt 30 meters wide is to be maintained on the east and west perimeters of the Old City
  • the moat on the north and south perimeters is to be strictly protected, forming a green belt on those sides of the city
  • the towers and the remains of the city walls are to be retained.
The plan emphasizes the special significance of the Old City’s contour as its “凸” shape is one of its most distinctive characteristics. The city walls, gates, moat, inner city and outer city all bear a close connection with the “凸” shape. If those contours are lost, so will most of the cultural significance of the city. Under the continuing onslaught from developers, the city’s “凸” contour is fast becoming its remaining symbol. Once the contours are broken, the Old City will never regain its integrity, the concept of the Old City will be obliterated and discussions about the preservation of the Old City will be redundant. To preserve the Old City of Beijing, its “凸” shape needs to be protected.
After on the ground observations, we have discovered that the contours of the Old City are now being infringed upon in the following ways:
  1. Contempt towards the concept of the 30 meter wide green belt on the east and west sides of the Old City, where the old city wall used to be. Some new buildings, and some recently altered buildings, occupy land that should be part of this green belt. These offending buildings include the Guangda International Center on the inside of West Second Ring Road South Section (see illustration #1) and the Shiji Real Estate Planning Building on the Central Section of East Second Ring Road (see illustration #2). Moreover, some buildings have greenery in front, but its sole purpose is to embellish the entrances to the buildings, not to provide symbolic representation of the old city walls. An example is the Jin Rong Building on the inside of the South Section of West Second Ring Road (see illustration #3).
  2. The building of major traffic arteries has already obscured the clear contours of the Old City at crucial points, such as Dong Bian Men, Xi Bian Men, and Dong Zhi Men. At the present time, the construction of a major thoroughfare in the northwest corner of the Old City has worsened the situation (see illustration #4). Some new construction work, the purpose of which is not clear, has also begun at the Tower of Dong Bian Men, making the future of the wall near the Tower uncertain (see illustration #5).
  3. A few projects that are being flaunted as top international level buildings are illegally occupying land on the inside of the Second Ring Road . They are not only destroying the style and features of the Old City, but are also damaging the smooth contours of the old city. The New Poly Plaza that is being built on the southwest corner of the intersection of East Second Ring Road and Dongsi Shitiao (see illustration #6), is possibly trying to compete in majesty with the old City Wall Towers, but in fact just appears uncouth and overbearing.
  4. Some portions of the moat on the north and south sides of the city are being suitably protected and are beginning to take the form of green belts protecting the Old City (see illustration #7). But the concept of the moat and its green belt defining the entire contours of the Old City contours has yet to materialize. Some sections of the northern moat are extremely narrow (see illustration #8), and others have been blocked by roads (see illustration #9).
The ”凸” shape marked the defensive perimeters of the Old City. Those old perimeters are still there, but encroachment on them is clearly underway. If the intrusions becomes more severe, then the perimeters will collapse. It is the right of every individual to closely inspect and to constructively report all such encroachments on the Old City.

Protection of the Old City of Beijing: Good Plans, No Follow Through

The Old City of Beijing—the Ming and Qing city lying within the remains of the old city wall and moat, which in today’s terms is the area lying within the Second Ring Road, occupying 62.5 square kilometers—is one of the world’s most well-known cultural heritage sites. On 18 September 2002, the municipal government  announced a detailed plan to protect the Old City and started to implement it from 16 October that year. According to the laws on Municipal Planning of the PRC government, these plans have the power of law and must be enforced as such. Unless the plans have gone through the legal amendment process, the contents of the plans may not be altered.
 
The Old City protection plan is very substantive. A few key points are shown below:
1. The convex-shaped borders of the Old City must be protected. Thirty meters of green space is to be maintained on the inner side of the East and West Second Ring Roads, symbolic of the old city walls that used to be there.
2. The form and colors of all new structures within the Old City must be in harmony with the overall style and features of the Old City. All single and multiple story residences must have sloping roofs. 
3. The first group of Old City Conservation zones (25 zones with a total area of 1038 hectares) must be protected strictly in accordance with the protection plan approved by Beijing City in February 2002. The protection of the second group of Old City Conservation zones (5 zones occupying 249 hectares) will be governed by a protection plan that is to be prepared, approved, and enforced by the city government as quickly as possible. In the Imperial City conservation zone,  structures three stories and higher, and structures not in keeping with the style and features of the Imperial City, will no longer be approved. All existing flat-roof structures within the Imperial City will be converted to sloping roof structures.
4. Height restriction controls will follow three criteria: protected buildings will be controlled under the Cultural Relics Protection Law, buildings within the historical conservation zones will be controlled by the Protection Plan, and the remaining buildings will be managed by the Central Beijing District Detailed Control Plan.
5. All ancient relics within the Old City are to be strictly managed according to the Cultural Relics Protection Law. Such relics include World Heritage sites, national level protected sites, city level protected sites, district level protected sites, and district level “temporarily protected and under investigation” sites.
6. The traditional names of Old City places are to be protected. Traditional names of streets and hutongs can’t be casually changed.
 
The Protection Plan for the Old City of Beijing has the support of the central government of China, and was put in place on the foundation of public support and expert advice. Whether or not the plan can be strictly implemented determines the fate of the Old City. On 1 May, 2005, “The Regulations for the Protection of the Famous Historical Culture of Beijing” started to be applied. The eighth clause of the regulation states that “Every unit and individual person in Beijing has an obligation to protect the historical Old City of Beijing, and moreover has the right to offer proposals regarding the enactment and implementation of the Protection Plan, to dissuade from, inform on, and bring accusations against any activities destructive of the historical city of Beijing.”
 
We looked into the actual condition of the Old City and found that the protection work had not been diligently undertaken. Violations of the  regulations include:
*  The 30 meter green zone, symbolizing the old city wall, can scarcely be found.
* There are many buildings not in harmony with the overall form and style of the Old City.
* Forced demolition of old structures under the pretext that they are hazardous structures (there seems no way to stop this sort of activity).
* Some of the new structures seriously violate height restrictions, and there are several excessively tall buildings appearing within the East Second Ring Road.
* Many historical relics are inappropriately occupied and misused, to the extent that their appearance has been totally altered.
* Traditional place names are beginning to disappear, replaced by names expressive of the mentality of the nouveau riche.
 
The occurrences above that transpired before the protection plans stemmed from stupidity and ignorance, but for those after the regulations were brought in are illegal.  In the future we shall raise and analyze a few detailed examples of the destruction of the Old City, in order to enlist the public in the effective protection of the Old City of Beijing.
 
 
 
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