|Seen from the Bell Tower, a crane works on a construction site near the Drum Tower among hutong courtyard homes in central Beijing.(Shanghai Daily)|
Beijing has wiped out swathes of ancient hutongs and courtyard houses and the latest slated for demolition is a shambles of dubious historic value. Still, Louise Watt finds that many are sad to see it go.
In a corner of old Beijing, the government may soon be both destroying history and remaking it. District officials want to recreate a piece of China's glorious dynastic past by rebuilding a square near the Drum and Bell towers in 18th-century Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) fashion.
To do it, they will demolish dozens of scuffed courtyard homes that preservationists say have themselves become a part of a cultural history that is fast disappearing as construction transforms the Chinese capital city.
Because of relatively recent renovation, few of the homes can claim to be more than a few decades old. But they are in crooked alleyways known as hutongs, which formed around courtyard houses and date back centuries.
Along their lanes and within their mended walls, an old way of life is still visible - mahjong rooms, shared courtyards, clothes hanging to dry - against a more distant backdrop of skyscrapers.
The plan to redo the neighborhood has raised the ire of those who see it as swapping a real and living piece of Beijing's history for a recreated artifact.
"They want to restore the Drum and Bell Tower square to the time of the prosperous Qing Dynasty," but in doing so they will destroy a "rich accumulation of cultural heritage," says He Shuzhong, founder of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, a nongovernmental organization.
"We believe that protecting cultural heritage is about inheriting, accumulation. It is a process of history. It shouldn't look like the prosperous time now," he says.
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