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New rules to safeguard charms of old Beijing
By Li Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-03-26 05:44

A long-awaited law to protect Beijing's historical and cultural heritage was passed by the city's legislature on Friday after nearly a year's deliberation.

Siheyuan courtyard homes near the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing are under protection to safeguard the charms of old Beijing. The city's legislature passed new rules on March 25 to protect Beijing's historical and cultural heritages. [newsphoto]
The Beijing Regulation for Historical and Cultural City Protection, which take effect from May 1, stipulate that the city will protect not only its more than 3,500 listed heritage sites, but also unlisted sites deemed to be of historical or cultural value.

The 41-article regulations also guarantee protection for all areas of the 850-year-old capital within the city's Second Ring Road.

This means that, as well as high profile areas like the Forbidden City and the old river system, the old city layout, the colours of old buildings, ancient trees and even the names of houses and lanes will have legal protection .

"The most encouraging content of the regulations is that Beijing will pay more attention to protecting the old city's landscape in its entirety, rather than just focussing on scattered heritage sites," said Mei Ninghua, director of the Beijing Administrative Bureau of Cultural Heritage.

Heritage guardians have long appealed for the traditional fabric of the old city to be preserved, including the old lanes and courtyards. They feared a policy of only protecting isolated heritage sites could result in them eventually being sandwiched between high-rise office blocks.

"We took measures to protect the city's siheyuan courtyard houses by tagging protection plates on more than 650 of them in 2003, which prevented them from being demolished or damaged during the city's massive housing reconstruction projects," said Mei.

"Now the new regulations give legal buttress to the protection of siheyuan courtyard homes, as well as other unmovable ancient treasures, that have yet to be listed but are at risk of being demolished during urban renovation," Mei added.

The regulations also stipulate that any civilians or workers who find buildings deserving protection can report to the city's heritage administrative authorities and put forward their own suggestions on how to protect them.

No building regarded as having historical or cultural value and deserving of protection may be demolished, rebuilt or extended. Those found to have broken the regulation will be fined from 100,000 to 200,000 yuan (US$12,000-24,000) and will also be responsible for restoring the buildings back to their original state.

It is intended for the new building regulations to work in tandem with legislation the city passed last September to preserve cultural relics.

"The two sets of regulations set a stronger legal basis for the protection of cultural relics in Beijing," said Luo Zhewen, a renowned Beijing heritage expert.

But Luo warned that how the regulations are implemented is of great importance. "Without efficient and iron-handed measures, the traditional appearance and flavour of Beijing might vanish - completely and forever," said Luo.

He said he was glad to see the city's previous steamrollering urban development - characterized by the complete demolition of old houses and their replacement with entirely new buildings - had been changed to be more sympathetic to existing older buildings and the city's historic character.

(China Daily 03/26/2005 page2)

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