FOR the past 200 years, the mountains 100 kilometres to the east of Beijing have been home to several small communities of peasants who eked out a living by growing fruit trees and raising goats on the barren hillsides. Although technically a part of Beijing municipality, the communities were largely cut off from the capital, with no telephones and, until recently, no electricity, and only accessible by narrow dirt tracks winding their way up the mountain valleys. But now, the Beijing Government, in its benevolence, is allowing the peasants to leave their mountain homes in the shadow of the Great Wall and move to more prosperous surroundings closer to the city. Many of the communities have now been all but abandoned, with the houses falling into disrepair. But not for long, because as the peasants are coming down, Beijing's yuppies are going up. The yuppies are discovering that the old, deserted mountain villages provide an ideal weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of city life and are buying properties there by the handful. A large, eight-room courtyard house in the mountains can be acquired from the area communist party committee or government for as little 14,000 yuan (HK$12,320), or the price of one night out at one of Beijing's more extravagant karaoke bars. A certain amount of renovation has to be done before the properties are brought up to standards expected by the urban elite, but by employing workers from the villages, costs can still be kept down. But as one new owner soon discovered, employing village workers to renovate your house can have its drawbacks. She wanted to have central heating installed in her new courtyard home, essential if spoilt urbanites are to survive the freezing winters in the mountains, but the hardy villagers, who had never seen a central heating system, were at a loss about how to install it. The result was a brand new set of radiators, but no heat. The fact that the water supply, emanating from the nearby spring, had a tendency to disappear sporadically did not help matters. Despite the problems encountered in making the properties habitable, some new yuppie communities are gradually taking shape. One 20-household village, now completely sold to Beijing residents, has a satellite dish (although it is not yet connected to anything) and, a little way up the valley, a swimming pool. The pool is actually a miniature reservoir formed by damming the nearby creek but, because of the recent drought, it is only one-third full. And even when it is full, the icy water which feeds it makes swimming an extremely bracing experience, even at the height of summer. Nevertheless, the village does provide a tranquil retreat from the city during the summer; a place where you can escape the crowds and forget the tensions of urban life. Getting to the village requires a hair-raising 21/2 hour drive along country roads overrun with manic truck drivers, but it is undoubtedly worth the effort. However, some of the yuppie pioneers are concerned that as more people buy up mountain properties, their tranquil retreat will start to lose its bucolic charm. Still, for the time being, the villages remain largely as they have for the past 200 years - remote country communities where you would not know you are in Beijing at all.