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The project to recreate Yongning Town in northwest Beijing as it was centuries ago saw its first phase completed on Saturday.

Covering 563,000 square metres in Yanqing County, the project will show what the town looked like around the time of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. When it is finished in 2006, the whole project will have cost around 1 billion yuan (US$121 million).

A grand gala, attracting about 20,000 people, marked the opening of "ancient Yongning." There was entertainment with a traditional Beijing flavour, such as stilt walking and yangge folk dancing.

Li Jun, a middle-aged farmer from Yanqing County, said: "It is great that the town is no longer a legend only existing in the memory of grandparents."

The farmer said he also hoped the new "ancient Yongning" could help the area prosper again. The future development of Yongning will focus on tourism and local commodity circulation, as was the case more than a century ago.

The old town of Yongning was once a major economic centre to the north of Beijing's city limits but it has been declining since the late Qing Dynasty. It had lost all of its distinctive buildings by the end of the decade-long "cultural revolution" in 1976.

But Wang Danjiang, director of the Cultural Relics Protection Division of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Relics, said the expensive project means much more than the reappearance of a legend.

He said the new "ancient Yongning" will fill in a blank in the picture of how Beijing people lived during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

"While it is easy for people to find traces of how the emperors and other members of the ruling class lived in a number of magnificent buildings in central Beijing, buildings representing the ordinary people's lives have almost all disappeared with time," Wang said.

(China Daily 07/21/2003 page2)


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