Her­itage build­ings need stricter su­per­vi­sion

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI YANG in Bei­jing


The ten­ant of a pro­tected his­tor­i­cal build­ing in Shang­hai caused a stir last month by paint­ing its ex­te­rior a dif­fer­ent color with­out gain­ing ap­proval from the au­thor­i­ties.

The build­ing, which was com­pleted in 1914, was used by for­eign banks un­til the late 1940s. In 1999, the Shang­hai mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment con­ferred on it pro­tected sta­tus.

Some lo­cal res­i­dents sub­se­quently up­loaded pho­tos of the project on­line show­ing how the color was quite dif­fer­ent from the orig­i­nal stone façade.

The city’s hous­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion bureau, which is re­spon­si­ble for his­tor­i­cal build­ings such as this, re­sponded by say­ing that the ten­ant had not been per­mit­ted to pro­ceed with the ren­o­va­tion work.

It halted the project but found that the dam­age had al­ready been done. Only a small part of the build­ing’s façade is now the orig­i­nal yel­low color while most of the street-fac­ing fa­cade is gray.

The gov­ern­ment is du­ty­bound to pro­tect her­itage build­ings, the value of which is hard to cal­cu­late be­cause of their rich his­tory as public prop­erty in ad­di­tion to their ba­sic real-es­tate value.

In Ji­nan, Shan­dong prov­ince, lo­cal res­i­dents or­ga­nize an­nual ac­tiv­i­ties com­mem­o­rat­ing the city’s for­mer rail­way sta­tion, a master­piece de­signed by a fa­mous Ger­man ar­chi­tect in 1904. The sta­tion was torn down in 1992 to give way to a new one fea­tur­ing glass walls.

Shang­hai al­ready serves as an ex­am­ple for other Chi­nese cities in terms of pro­tect­ing his­tor­i­cal build­ings. The gov­ern­ment con­ducted ex­ten­sive re­search from the 1980s to 1990s on all of the old build­ings in the city and clas­si­fied them into dif­fer­ent grades. Each grade af­fords a dif­fer­ent level of pro­tec­tion.

As such, most of the city’s old build­ings are well-pre­served and still func­tion well af­ter a cen­tury or more.

But the city still needs to draw lessons from the re­cent case in­volv­ing the for­mer bank, which could have been bet­ter su­per­vised.

In fact, pun­ish­ment should only be con­sid­ered a last re­sort to de­ter wrong­do­ers. Although the bureau acted quickly once it had been alerted to the pho­tos posted on­line, the dam­age can­not be un­done. And if the au­thor­i­ties al­ways rely on the public to in­form it of trans­gres­sions af­ter the fact, its job will be re­duced from pro­tect­ing prop­erty to dispensing fines.

Had lo­cal res­i­dents not spread the pho­tos on­line, the re­paint­ing project would have been fin­ished be­fore the bureau no­ticed it. Ob­vi­ously, the prob­lem be­comes even more prob­lem­atic when it comes to in­ter­nal ren­o­va­tions.

The bureau said the ten­ant sub­mit­ted an ap­pli­ca­tion to re­paint the wall be­fore­hand but con­tin­ued with the project af­ter the bureau turned down the ap­pli­ca­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the law, the ten­ant will be fined be­tween 2 per­cent and 30 per­cent of the build­ing’s es­ti­mated value.

An ef­fec­tive way to de­ter wrong­do­ers would be to strengthen the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the rules and make the pun­ish­ments more se­vere. In some Euro­pean coun­tries, dam­ag­ing his­toric build­ings can re­sult in charges be­ing meted out un­der crim­i­nal law.

The gov­ern­ment and me­dia should also raise aware­ness of the need to pro­tect such her­itage sites.

China is mod­ern­iz­ing at an in­cred­i­ble rate as the coun­try’s ur­ban­iza­tion drive con­tin­ues. In­evitably, it seems, many old build­ings are be­ing re­placed by mod­ern com­plexes and malls that look no dif­fer­ent from one an­other.

As many old build­ings are densely con­cen­trated in parts of cities that used to rank as down­town ar­eas, lo­cal gov­ern­ments would do bet­ter to clas­sify ur­ban ar­eas into dif­fer­ent grades ac­cord­ing to their his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance rather than fo­cus­ing on in­di­vid­ual build­ings.

It is not just the build­ings them­selves, but also the com­mu­ni­ties that in­habit them or their en­vi­rons that are in­te­gral parts of the city.

In Bei­jing, the whole ur­ban area within the sec­ond ring road is de­fined as a “his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural preser­va­tion area”. The pop­u­la­tion is con­trolled, and the value of the his­toric build­ings there is so high that the own­ers know it is more prof­itable to pre­serve them rather than build over them.

The au­thor­i­ties can pro­vide more pro­fes­sional guid­ance and strict su­per­vi­sion to help the ten­ants or own­ers ren­o­vate and con­sol­i­date the build­ings in an ap­pro­pri­ate way. This form of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the gov­ern­ment and public would be win-win.

Many Chi­nese moth­ers were sur­prised to see the Duchess of Cam­bridge Kate Mid­dle­ton ap­pear in public just 10 hours af­ter giv­ing birth to Princess Char­lotte, her sec­ond child, as this runs counter to Chi­nese tra­di­tion.

New moth­ers in China of­ten fol­low a strict 30-day reg­i­men of food and rest to help re­cover from the rig­ors of child­birth. It is known as

or “the month of sit­ting”.

The Los An­ge­les Times wrote a spe­cial re­port en­ti­tled “Bri­tish princess’ de­but causes post­par­tum shock and awe in China” that ex­plained the Chi­nese tra­di­tion and in­ter­viewed sev­eral in­ter­na­tional cou­ples. The cost of stay­ing at a spe­cial­ized cen­ter for one month can cost over 100,000 yuan ($16,100) in Shang­hai.


The ten­ant of this pro­tected his­toric build­ing near the Bund painted most of its street-fac­ing ex­te­rior gray be­fore the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties caught up with him.

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