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China's ancient architecture



Bill Ratliff is what used to be called a globe-trotter. I have two messages from him, one about China, the other about the Falklands. Here is the one about China: "China certainly has decided that modernization means destroying much of its architectural (and much other) past. (Never mind the Cultural Revolution period when every cultural structure, from buildings to artifact to book would have been destroyed if Mao and the Red Guards had completely had their way.) Another example is the glorious canaled city of Suzhou. In recent years thousands of old buildings have been replaced by more modern ones. These new ones are supposedly in a "traditional style," but in fact they are cheap caricatures of the originals. Several years ago I talked to some of the people being displaced in one community. By and large the older folks deplored the changes while the younger were sympathetic. To be sure, conditions in many of the old canal-bordering places were pretty shabby. But the new structures look like they won't last much more than a decade before they are worse than the old ones. The one serious recent effort I know of to draw up reforms that would preserve the old while providing for the new, sketched out on the request of Suzhou officials by a son of IM Pei has gone nowhere. Father Pei, who grew up in Suzhou, refused to participate until the city government proved it was serious, which he correctly judged in advance that they were not. Meanwhile, the old building have continued to tumble and the new ones to rise".

My clarification. Bill is referring to the architect Ieon Ming Pei, not to be confused with civil engineer Ming I Pei. Both were born in China and settled in the US, but if they are relatives it is not apparent. I. M. is more famous than M. I., who is six years younger. I.M. was born in Canton in 1917. He came to the US and studied at MIT and Harvard. He has received many honors from various countries. I suppose the French honors were in recognition of his renovation of the Louvre, the main feature of which is the glass pyramid in the courtyard. I do not go into ecstasy about it, but I seldom do about anything.

Ronald Hilton - 4/2/02


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