"Untouchable" area of old Beijing under threat (3)

22:34, May 13, 2010      

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Many locals strongly oppose the government scheme.

"I don't want to leave, but this is the government," a local businessman whose family has lived in the area for decades said. "What can we do? Arms can't fight thighs."

Residents said that when the plans were announced, some people tried to organize a sit-down protest in the square between the two towers, but police prevented them. A public meeting planned for March 26 by BJCHP was canceled at the last minute after police pressure.

But opposition is not unanimous, especially among poorer residents. There are many comments on the BJCHP website telling the organization to keep its nose out of the affair. Many people are desperate to get out of dilapidated, overcrowded and unsanitary houses into modern apartments.

A middle-aged couple showed us the cracks in the walls of their apartment explaining they had been demanding repairs for years with little result. "The chief came round in a luxury car to check one day. But we have heard nothing since."

Sky-high compensation is another incentive to relocate. Leaks from Dongcheng officials indicate that displaced residents may be paid as much as 200,000 yuan (29,000 U. S. dollars) per square meter.

Beijing real-estate market watcher Bill Bishop says sums of up to 150,000 yuan have been paid out on recent similar developments. He says the payments reflect the fact that "under no circumstances does the government want to see force used to move people inside Beijing's center."

Many residents will be happy enough to take the compensation and relocate, but for people hoping that Beijing will preserve at least some of its traditional areas, these are anxious times.

"From what I hear, the project will wind up as another soulless imitation of Western consumerism in the form of a bogus Old Peking theme park. I can't bring myself to visit many of the places that I wrote about; it is all too tragic," said Michael Aldrich, author of The Search for a Vanishing Beijing.

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