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Beijing halts face-lift of ancient courtyard

(Xinhua)

09:23, July 18, 2012

BEIJING - Authorities have halted a project to give an ancient courtyard home in downtown Beijing a face-lift and issued a hefty fine to the construction firm and the courtyard's owner, Beijing cultural heritage bureau said Tuesday.

The century-old courtyard, No. 51 in Shijia Hutong, is better known as the former residence of Zhang Shizhao, a prominent scholar and politician in modern China history. After his death in 1973, the courtyard home was lived in by his daughter Zhang Hanzhi who once served as Chairman Mao's English teacher and her husband Qiao Guanhua, a former foreign minister.

The residence is a siheyuan, a rectangled courtyard surrounded by tilt-roofed brick houses on each side. The layout dates back thousands of years. Though once very common in Beijing, many courtyard homes have been demolished over the last few decades.

Beijing's cultural heritage bureau said it was prompted to investigate the "illegal" construction after Zhang Shizhao's granddaughter Hong Huang broke the news on her blog, saying the ancient courtyard home was being demolished.

In a statement, the bureau said it found the construction firm started the project without proper licences and part of the project was not approved by cultural heritage authorities.

The project was halted and a fine of 200,000 yuan (31,496 U.S. dollars) was issed, the statement said.

Demolition of Beijing's ancient courtyard homes has become a sensitive issue as people fear that the invaluable cultural relics might eventually be wiped out by real estate developers vying for lucrative developments on these ancient courtyards or their prime locations -- usually at the heart of old Beijing city.

In January, authorities halted a construction project on another former residence of a famous scholarly couple in Beijing amid public outcry over poor protection of cultural heritages.

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