IN front of the grand portals of the Ministry of Communications' new edifice on the Avenue of Eternal Peace is a decrepit shack that 83-year-old Jing Changyin is waging a near hopeless struggle to preserve. 'This is my property, how can they take it away from me?' he said tearfully. Mr Jing is one of thousands of elderly Taiwanese mainlanders who have returned after more than 40 years in exile. What was once a handsome courtyard house is now an eyesore. Mr Jing still insists on trying to live there, to the despair of his son, Jing Delin. 'There is no water or electricity but he won't leave. Sometimes he even spends the night here just in case they secretly come to try demolish it,' said the son, who has left his engineering job in California to try to solve the problem. For the father, the family house is a symbol. 'This is where I brought my bride to live when we were married,' he said, gazing around at the piles of bricks, the rubble and the few rooms left. While he was with the Kuomintang, the Communists appropriated his house to shelter a dozen families. When the Jing family returned, the authorities recognised their ownership but refused to evict the inhabitants. The Beijing Government's Policy Implementation Office provided them with a two-room flat in another part of the city. A few years later, the Ministry of Communications obtained permission to build a new headquarters and began tearing down houses on the site opposite the railway station. In May 1993, the authorities cut off the water and electricity and began to tear down buildings in Nanyipao Alley. Part of Mr Jing's house was demolished but he was able to stop its total destruction. For years now, he and his son have struggled with Beijing bureaucracy and the Chinese legal system. No one, it seems, wants responsibility - not the United Front Department, dealing with issues affecting overseas Chinese, the Dongcheng housing bureau, the Ministry of Communications nor the urban planning bureau. Beijing officials deny such cases are common, but in Taipei the Straits Exchange Foundation said it was frequently involved in such disputes. 'Many people try and fail to get back property they owned before 1949. It is not easy even if the law is on their side,' said the director of the Department of Legal Services, Reed Yu. Mr Jing's son said: 'It is not about money . . . My parents just want the Government to fix up their old home so they can live there.' His father explained: 'I feel at home here. Things haven't changed much and I like to eat the food and see my old friends and relatives.'