ONE hundred years ago, in an elegant courtyard house in southwest Beijing, 200 Chinese in despair at the decay and backwardness of their country decided to act. They founded the Association to Protect the Country and led three months of modernisation, known as the 100 Days of Reform, before the aged Dowager Empress put a stop to it and beheaded six ministers who were its leaders. The house where the movement was launched was declared an historic monument by the city's Cultural Relics Bureau. But, last week, a demolition squad arrived and took pickaxes to the roof, removing tiles and bricks, now for sale at five fen (four cents) each. The house had to make way for a road. Fang Ke, a lecturer at Qinghua University and a campaigner to save old Beijing, looked sad as dust from the rubble enveloped the labourers on the roof. 'The bureau promised to rebuild the house elsewhere,' he said. 'But is this what it means? They will not rebuild it, that is just an excuse. They should keep it and could build the road they want anyway.' The compound, in traditional style, consists of half a dozen buildings, divided by three courtyards. The main one is surrounded by three one-storey grey wood and brick buildings with a roof of curved tiles and red windows. Since the communist takeover, it has been used as a primary, then a secondary, school and was in excellent condition. Appropriately, a giant scholar's tree stands in the back courtyard. 'I am very unhappy,' said teacher Shi Qing. 'As I watch this demolition, my heart is heavy. Outside our front door, we had a plaque from the bureau saying that this is a protected building. Then they removed it. What kind of protection is this? Has the bureau no power? Is making money the only thing that matters?' On Monday, four well-known scholars, including the former director of the China History Museum, issued a public appeal to save the courtyard saying it was not only for the birthplace of the 100 Days of Reform but also where Sun Yat-sen, father of the Chinese Republic, lectured. The building would lose its meaning if it was dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere, they argued. The road could be diverted around it, as had been done in other parts of Beijing to preserve historic buildings. The 2km road will link with the most central of the four ring roads round Beijing. It will run through part of Xuanwu district, rich in history. During the Qing dynasty, the ruling Manchus limited the number of Han allowed to live in the inner city. As a result, this part of Xuanwu became popular as a place for homes of high-ranking Han officials and guesthouses for visiting businessmen. All the houses in the path of the road are being demolished, including a courtyard home that used to belong to Li Hongzao, a government minister and teacher to one of the Qing emperors. His grandson, Li Zongjun, 78, still lives there. 'It was a good life for us before 1949,' said Mr Li. 'My father was a stockbroker and we had a family of four, with six servants, including a doorman and a man who pulled our carriage. We occupied three courtyards.' After the revolution, everything changed for Mr Li. He became a labourer and 10 families moved in, building brick homes inside the courtyard. It is no longer elegant, with a clutter of bicycles and drying clothes. 'Everyone who was at the top went to the bottom and everyone at the bottom went to the top,' said Mr Li. 'All our antiques, furniture and family records have been taken.' Mr Li and his family expect to be rehoused in an apartment building in the Fengtai district, 8km to the southwest, with compensation of about 50 to 100 yuan per square metre, leaving a fortune to be shared between the developers and officials who approved the project. The Cultural Relics Bureau declined to comment.