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Reconstruction project looks suspiciously like destruction

By Zhang Kun  (China Daily)

09:57, August 13, 2012

Is the 100-year-old Taohuawu neighborhood in downtown Suzhou, Jiangsu province, being renovated or destroyed?

That's a question now circulating on the Internet. The reconstruction of Taohuawu, which literally translates as "the Peach Blossom Dock", was announced two years ago. The project was intended to refurbish antique buildings, improve locals' living conditions and promote tourism.

But this past May, Song Weijian, an architect and vice-director of the Architectural Society of China's interior design branch, had an experience that cast doubt on whether those aims were being strictly pursued.

At a construction site, he came upon fine-crafted antique wood columns and screen doors with elaborate carvings. Curious about their origin, he later learned, to his disgust, that they had come from dismantled buildings in Taohuawu.

"They are pulling down historical buildings that should be protected," Song said on Tuesday. He took pictures showing destroyed houses and scattered debris in the Taohuawu neighborhood and posted them on his micro blog. He also condemned those who had removed parts of antique buildings.

His words and images attracted tens of thousands of comments and stirred up concerns about the destruction of Taohuawu and the historical buildings.

A house in the neighborhood has since become one of the chief topics of discussion related to the reconstruction project. The structure, No 4 Datie Lane, has a frame made of nanmu, a precious wood that has been traditionally valued in China, and dates back to the mid-1800s. The owners of the house, a pair of brothers named Ye Peiji and Ye Peikun, have refused to leave the residence to make way for the reconstruction project.

On Aug 6, the local People's Court of the Pingjiang district, Suzhou, held a hearing about the house. The government agency in charge of the Taohuawu reconstruction said it had a legal license to undertake the project and the Ye family will have to give up their house.

"Some rumors on the Internet said we are tearing down the house at No 4 Datie Lane, but that's not true," said Cao Qinliang, manager of the Taohuawu Development Co Ltd. "The people living there should be removed, but the house won't be."

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