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Demolition suspended of Beijing ancient hutong

Updated: 2007-05-28 10:27

The controversial demolition of houses at Dongsi Batiao, an ancient alley of courtyard homes in downtown Beijing, has been suspended, an official with Dongcheng District government has confirmed.

Suspending demolition, however, doesn't mean the redevelopment project has been terminated, the official said.

The official said the demolition office will continue negotiating with local residents over the amount of compensation they will receive.

By Saturday, only the No. 9 courtyard in the hutong or alley had been bulldozed and fewer than 10 of the 80 families in the neighborhood had moved.

Dongsi Batiao, which literally translated means the eighth hutong in the Dongsi area, was first developed some 700 years ago during the Ming Dynasty (1271-1368). It has been listed as one of the capital's 25 protected historical sites.

The redevelopment plan has been criticized by historians, experts and in editorials that point out the area is one of the city's 25 protected historic sites and should be preserved.

Other courtyard homeowners such as Xia Jie, a folklore lover who has grown up in Dongsi Batiao and owns a 500-sqm siheyuan or four-sided courtyard, wants the redevelopment project permanently halted.

"Hutongs are the soul of Beijing. They must be preserved." Xia, who has petitioned the government and is awaiting feedback, was quoted by the Beijing Times as saying.

However, local newspapers say that many of the local residents with no property rights of the courtyards are eager to move but upset with the compensation, with the lowest at 8,090 yuan a square meter.

"We can't wait to move. Who said this is cultural relics, please come to my place and see for yourself," said another resident who had lived 17 years in a shabby one-room shack.

Some residents say these traditional houses lack sufficient sanitation such as flushing toilets, bathrooms and are in unsafe condition. They deemed it's a good chance to improve living conditions but the compensation is not enough to buy an apartment downtown where housing price can be twice as much as the compensation for per sq m.

The owner of the No. 9 courtyard, said she was satisfied with the compensation. The developer paid her more than 20,000 yuan for one square meter because the courtyard is her private property.

Bai Hua, deputy manager of Zhong Bao Jia Ye Property Development, would not confirm that demolition had been suspended as he had not received formal notice from the government.

The housing administration of Dongcheng District published an announcement in February saying two hutongs, the eighth and ninth of Dongsi, would be demolished.

The authority posted another notice on April 15, ordering all the residents to move out before May 26.

Covering an area of 80,000 square meters, the redevelopment of the area was approved by the municipal urban planning bureau in 2001 under the name of "renovation of endangered historic areas".

Liu Qifei, an archaeologist and a member of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress, the local political advisory body, appealed to the municipal government in late April, asking that the project be stopped.

Liu also said the departments in charge of the project should be reprimanded for damaging the city's image as an ancient capital.

The hutongs, traditional networks of small lanes and courtyards, have been rapidly vanishing in recent years as Beijing modernizes, triggering outcries to safeguard the city's unique heritage.