Beijing launchs plan to protect "Siheyuan"
( 2003-09-24 01:23) (China Daily)
A blue plaque was nailed up over the gate of a traditional courtyard home in Xicheng District in Beijing yesterday, to help protect the "Siheyuan" from bulldozers.
The courtyard, located at No 9 Dongtiejiang Lane, became one of 339 set aside for preservation in downtown Beijing, as part of a planned second round of heritage listings.
They will be listed as valuable, protected relics before October 1, according to the Beijing Administrative Bureau of Cultural Relics.
On July 16, the No 39 courtyard in Dongsi 12th Lane become the first "Siheyuan" to be protected by the Beijing municipal government. Its listing was regarded as a major step forward for the city in the race between bulldozers and conservationists.
"Courtyards with the blue plaques are not allowed to be demolished or damaged in rampant renovation projects,'' said Zhang Mao, vice-mayor of Beijing, who nailed in plaques at several courtyards in Xicheng District yesterday.
Yesterday's announcement brings the total number of protected "Siheyuan" in Beijing to 539. A first batch of 200 traditional courtyards was heritage-listed in the past two months, although hundreds of others are still unprotected in Beijing.
The city's courtyards, firstly built in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) when Beijing became the national capital, have long been considered the epitome of China's traditional urban residential architecture.
"The design, layout and material of the old houses here reflect the ancient philosophy of harmony between humans and heaven,'' said Liu Xiaoshi, a leading architect active in the preservation of old Beijing.
However, many valuable "Siheyuan" have disappeared or face demolition due to massive construction projects.
The Beijing municipal government has become aware of the need to do more to guard the city's ancient treasures.
Zhang said identifying the 539 "Siheyuan" with plaques was the first step towards saving them. The municipal government was considering drawing up specific rules to protect the old Beijing homes.
"Protecting the courtyards is the top priority task at present,'' said Liu Xiaoshi, who was also the director of the Beijing City Planning Bureau in the 1980s.
He cited a pilot 'renovation' project in Beijing's Nanchizi neighbourhood, a centuries-old residential community just outside the red walls of the Forbidden City, as an alarming example.
About 26,000 square metres of old "Siheyuan" in the Nanchizi area have been replaced by new two-storey houses surrounding some courtyards.
"Such a renovation project totally reconstructs rather than protects the neighbourhood. If the much applauded Nanchizi model is going to be popularized in the government's efforts to renovate the city's old urban areas, Beijing is in danger of ultimately losing its glamour as an ancient historical and cultural city,'' said Liu.
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