Another Beijing Cultural Relic gone
The former residence of the late Liang Sicheng, one of the most renowned architects on the mainland, was reportedly bulldozed last week - to preserve the site.
Liang lived at the courtyard-style home in central Beijing with his wife, Lin Huiyin, in the 1930s. Lin was also a noted architect and writer.
The couple in the 1950s proposed the ancient capital be preserved in its original setting by building a new Beijing located far from the Forbidden City. But that suggestion was rejected, and most of the ancient city gates and walls have since been torn down.
The government also refused to make the city simply a political and cultural hub, instead making it the centre for everything - often blamed for problems such as traffic jams, pollution and a lack of ancient relics.
The demolition of the couple's former home was announced by the Dongcheng district authorities on Saturday. Fuheng Real Estate, a subsidiary of state-owned China Resources Enterprise, tore down the dilapidated building on safety grounds, the authorities said, but vowed to rebuild it to preserve the site.
'The developer wanted to prevent the residence from being harmed during the Lunar New Year [fireworks celebration],' Kong Fanzhi, director of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Cultural Heritage, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
But district cultural heritage officials admitted that the demolition had not been approved by the city-level authorities, Xinhua reported.
Li Chenggang, director of the Dongcheng Council for Culture and Education, told China Youth Daily the district government had made clear that the home would be rebuilt - and the developer had been told not to remove anything from the rubble.
After visiting the home in 2009, novelist Feng Jicai wrote in Southern Weekly: 'These former residences are meaningful and valuable because of the people who lived there. The condition of the building is not important at all. It's not the material that matters - a former residence should be more spiritual.'
The developer partly demolished Liang's residence three years ago, but it was halted amid a public outcry. The site had been designated a cultural relic. The price of land around the site could be worth tens of thousands of yuan per square metre.
Demolitions have transformed the capital into a modern metropolis in the past decade, but they have also turned many historical sites to rubble. As more money is poured into elaborate renovations, the demolitions are not only construction projects, but also a means for the local government to make money.
'All the courtyards are cultural heritage sites, and most of them are being demolished,' activist Hua Xinmin told the South China Morning Post. 'The core problem is that the government has already sold quite a lot of the land, so it is almost impossible to protect it.'
City governments rely on land sales for much of their revenue. They are increasingly seeking to cash in on real estate prices, which have risen 140 per cent since 1998, by appropriating land and flipping it to developers for huge profits, according to research last year by the China Construction Industry Association.
Hua also said most of these courtyards were private property until the Cultural Revolution, when the Red Guard forcibly seized property-ownership certificates issued by the Communist Party. These certificates were locked in the department of housing management's office, and only a few of them have been returned to the original owners.