Editor's note: China must realize that the choice of which structures to demolish and which ones to leave intact for posterity is of utmost importance to maintain a balance between the "new" and the old.
The need to be judicious in demolishing old buildings in the process of reconstructing cities has been an important and recurring issue in China in recent years. Now that the magnificent city of old times, Xi'an, too, aspires to be guoji da dushi (metropolis), it is time for some fresh reflection.
To a certain extent, "new look" constructions are unavoidable even in older/historical/ancient cities and towns. And given the pressure on land, they have to come at some cost of older structures.
But the choice of which structures to demolish and which ones to leave intact for posterity is of utmost importance to maintain a balance between the "new" and the old. There are still a lot of structures of historical and cultural value in China, especially in relatively smaller towns and cities that can be saved through some extra efforts.
One way Chinese urban planners seem to have tried to not disturb or interfere with old structures is building new/parallel cities, which house hi-tech industries, shopping malls, tall residential buildings and all that passes as "modern". Still the old cities cannot be and have not been left undisturbed. Suzhou in Jiangsu province is an example.
Between demolition of something old, be it a physical structure or a way of life, and preserving it symbolically or turning it into a "museum", other possible ways and means of protection/conservation/preservation (for example, refurbishing or helping it keep alive organically) deserve closer attention.
I have mixed views, though, on attempts to preserve the old through refurbishing in China. The city wall in Xi'an, for instance, has been slightly over-renovated. It looks too new, compact and done up to pass as a replica of the old.
Take Dali in Yunnan province as another example. It looks like a "brand new" ancient town. It is ancient but looks new, tidy and rather well kept because it has been done up considerably (especially in the early 1990s). For instance, parts of its older buildings have been demolished to widen the main streets. That is something I am not comfortable with, though I find Dali quite impressive the way it looks.