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Friday, December 15, 2000, updated at 22:19(GMT+8)

Geologist Follows Beijing's Transformation

Most ancient cities, like Troy, have in the long run gradually been toppled by wars, plagues, natural disasters or geological changes. However, the city of Beijing, which has survived over 3,000 years, may be considered an exception.

Built in 1054 BC, this capital city of the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) is now one of the most oldest cities in the world and many people have tried to explain why it has such strong vitality.

Hou Renzhi, an academician at the China Academy of Sciences and a renowned geologist, is among the greatest authorities on the subject in China.

Hou, 89, was the founder of China's modern geology. He introduced geological theories from western countries into the study of the origin of Beijing. Hou's theories have been used in the city's construction, the water conservation transformation and Hou has also taken part into some major steps of the city planning and building process.

"It is Beijing's marvelous beauty of architecture and history that always stimulates my research", Hou said while recalling parts of his life.

Hou fostered a great interest in architecture when he was studying history at Peking University in 1934.

The remark by professors Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin, two famous architectonic specialists, "Every grand ancient castle or even a corner of collapsed palace eulogizes the endless and incredible changes of time" has never escaped from Hou's memory.

From then on, Hou started to search almost every corner of Beijing to seek the cause of the city's ups and downs.

To him, Beijing, which was built more than 3,000 years ago, can well be named as an example of ancient city planning and construction in China and in the world.

Hou continued his geological studies at Liverpool University, England in 1946, where he completed his doctorate studies, embracing the hope of borrowing theories from other nations to serve his motherland.

Hou returned to Beijing three days before chairman Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. He joined the celebrations in Tian'anmen Square to mark the birth of a new China. "Everyone was so excited," he recalled.

As a returned expert, Hou was invited to serve in the Beijing Urban Planning Committee and has since devoted himself to the long-term reconstruction of the time-honored city of Beijing.

"Beijing's reconstruction has been OK on the whole, though there are some minor regrets", said Hou.

He believed that architecture always reflects the theme of an era. History should not become a burden to the reconstruction and it will do more good to the city to introduce scientific methods in the process.

Both academic circles and the central government have offered strong support to the honored scholar.

Beijing began to redevelop the sewage system and explore new water sources, based on the suggestion rendered by Hou and other experts that the city's reconstruction seek harmonious coexistence between nature and human beings.

Beijing used to be a city with abundant water resources. The water system here was inter-connected during ancient times and people could travel by boat from the Forbidden City in the core of the city to the Summer Palace in the northwest suburbs, said Hou.

Hou pointed out that in recent years improper rebuilding along the river routes, along with increasing water consumption, has turned Beijing into a water-deficient city.

The municipal government invested some 1.1 billion yuan (nearly US$133 million) in 1998 to dredge and widen the watercourses.

The city has re-created its beautiful scenery as a 50-km canal was put into operation, surrounded by many other rivers.

Beijing may keep its youth and vitality only when a proper relationship between construction and protection is established, Hou said.

The octogenarian expert still keeps a close watch on Beijing's city construction today. A map of Beijing published during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795) in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) hangs on the wall of his house now, and maps of different scales spread on his desk. Hou always travels around the city calling for more concern and understanding of Beijing from the public.

"Beijing is the cultural heritage of the whole world and we ought to create a unique city for our descendants, which will embody the splendid culture of the Chinese Nation, Hou said.

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Most ancient cities, like Troy, have in the long run gradually been toppled by wars, plagues, natural disasters or geological changes. However, the city of Beijing, which has survived over 3,000 years, may be considered an exception.

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