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China's ancient architecture



Earlier civilizations had a great sense or art, which we moderns have lost because of our cult of efficiency and money. In London there was a proposal to clear out blitz-destroyed property in the City to allow St. Paul's to stand out in all its majesty. The proposal was defeated. Likewise in Cologne, the area around the magnificent cathedral was built up, almost hiding it. Here in Palo Alto Spanish-style buildings have been replaced with boxes which bring in more money per square foot. Sometimes earthquake-resistance standards are given as a reason.

Paul Simon tells us that the situation is worse in China: "A common problem in China as natural wonders and historic structures get carved up for development. The Ministry of Construction is in charge of national parks here! Kind of like asking Orson Welles to look after your cookies and cigars, perhaps?

Historic preservation movements do exist, but the government is suspicious of organizations that exist outside the current structure. When I lived in Shenyang, it was heartbreaking to see fine old art deco structures, onion-domed Russian buildings, neat hutong neighborhoods, sections of the old city wall, great old homes with Mansard roofing, etc.get bulldozed and replaced with bathroom-tile cheapo office buildings. Here in Chengdu, the Mosque was knocked down a few years back and the site is slated to be a parking garage someday...".

Paul attaches an article by Jasper Becker from the Washington Post (4/1/02) which opens thus: "The number of Muslim families grimly hanging on to their historic homes is dwindling as the bulldozers flatten the landscape for redevelopment around one of Beijing's oldest buildings, the Ox Street Mosque. The mosque in Niu Jie, built during the Song dynasty, may be 1,000 years old. More than 1,000 members of China's oldest Muslim communities gathered last August to protest at the gates of the Beijing municipal Government against what they feared was the destruction of their ancient community. The peaceful protests lasted four days, part of the flickering resistance that started when the Xuanwu district authorities announced a massive redevelopment plan five years ago. "It didn't do much good," said one woman from the doorway of her courtyard house which once formed part of a winding alleyway that has all but gone. "They gave us a little more money, that's all."

Beijing has about 250,000 Muslims, generally known as Hui, whose features reveal a legacy of mixed Chinese and Central Asian bloodlines. The term is now vaguely used to refer to a separate ethnic group or to any Muslim believer and, although they elude precise definition, the Hui are proud of their separate history and identity. Beijing even has a Hui autonomous county within its borders where the descendants of soldier-settlers brought from the Yangtze River region during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) still live".

Ronald Hilton - 4/2/02


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