Oh the irony!
And oh how people fail to realise that the very reason why Kyoto and Nara is so well-preserved is due to someone who I respect but lament over- Mr Liang Sicheng.
It’s a honour to have graduated from the same university as Mr Liang. He finished his studies at Tsinghua 96 years earlier than I did. His Tsinghua was a lot better than my Tsinghua. His time during the 1950’s was sad but looking at present day China, little has changed.
All images starting from now are from the Internet.
Liang Sicheng ( 1901–1972/ born in Tokyo, Japan) was a Chinese architect and is often known as the Father of Modern Chinese Architecture. He was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by Princeton in 1947 and dedicated his life to teaching, historical research, exploration, restoration and preservation of priceless monuments in China and abroad.
Along with his wife Lin, they started an architecture curriculum but it wasn’t until 1946 that they managed to practice their professorship at Tsinghua. Their systematic and holistic curriculum became a reference for many other schools.
He felt that theory and practice are equally important and does not believe in learning about architecture through books. He frequently travels around the country for his research, preservation and documentation. His notes, drawings and books are considered to be essential grammar books on Chinese architecture.
Below are some examples of his excellent notes:
When Americans began heavy bombing of Japan. Lang told his brother-in-law Lin Heng, who served as a fighter pilot in the air force, to convince the American military authorities to spare the ancient Japanese cities of Kyoto and Nara. The military agreed and avoided bombing the areas around Nara and Kyoto. This reminded me of South Korea’s Daegu Hainsae Temple.
“Architecture is the epitome of society and the symbol of the people. But it does not belong to one people, for it is the crystallization of the entire human race. Nara’s Toshodaiji Temple is the world’s earliest wood-structure building. Once destroyed, it is irrecoverable.”
Although there are different versions to Liang’s involvement, he did had a part in reminding the Americans about the importance of Nara and Kyoto. So yes, Liang and the US officers took a part in such preservation.
And now…here comes my rambles on Mr Liang and China.
Liang and Lin’s suggestions can be seen in various buildings, temples and no doubt the current Chinese emblem. They were the ones who stated that the emblem must have Chinese characteristics. Yes, they did succeed in some cases but when it comes to the urban planning of Beijing- they were attacked and criticised.
Mao was against Liang’s proposal. He said ” There is a professor who want to shoo us out of Beijing.” Many officials felt that apart from the Forbidden City, other structures should be demolished to make way for a new Beijing.
Mr Wu, the Vice mayor of Beijing told Liang and his wife to quit being so outdated. ” One day when tall buildings are being built in Beijing, what is the point of having all those arches and structures?”
One of his biggest ambition was to preserve Old Beijing who was the capital of 4 dynasties. When it comes to transforming Beijing into the capital of New China, he insisted that the city should be a political and cultural center, not an industrial zone.
His proposal were to establish a new administrative centre that is away from the ancient Inner City. City walls and gates must be preserved and to have the ancient city be built with chicanes, so it can slow down traffic and ensure safety to old structures.
In 1955, Liang and Lin, both in bad health, were further emotionally tormented due to the barrage of criticism for their efforts to revive traditional Chinese architecture. Liang’s theory of architecture was publicly criticised during the Cultural Revolution. He was accused of “thinking that the Communist Party did not understand architecture”, and that his affinity to traditional designs was a “phenomena of waste in construction” ( What the hell?)! In the following year, Liang was forced to admit that he had made “mistakes.” I’d cough up blood and die in a miserable and depressed state if I’m surrounded by idiots who know shit. Watching historical landmarks being demolished is painful.
1953 – Zuoan Gate demolished
1954 – Double pagoda demolished
1956 – Zhonghua Gate demolished
1957 – Yongding, Guangliang, Guangan, Chaoyang Gates demolished
1958 – Youan Gate demolised
1965 to 1969 – Various paifang or pailou, which are Chinese arches and gateway structures, were demolished.
After tearfully watching such demolition, Liang proposed that buildings must have a traditional Chinese styled roof. But no one listened and in 1955, he became gravely ill and his wife Ms Lin passed away a year later.
In a 1957 article , Liang wrote ” Tearing down the old walls of Beijing is like cutting up my flesh and peeling off my skin. Such demolition of these culturally rich and historically significant landmarks is a brutal act. I cannot express how painful this is.”
There was little that he could do except to see it one last time, before the fall.
In the 1980’s, destruction continues with Beijing’s Hutong. There were over 1800 Hutongs in the Qing Dynasty, 1900 Hutongs during the early 1900’s and from a survey in 1998, there are only 990 left. On average, one Hutong disappears every two days as Beijing continues to develop into a modern souls monster.
How can visitors fall in love with Beijing when the Chinese are the ones who destroy and disrespect their own culture. How interesting can it be for visitors who can’t even see any sign of this old historical city?
Liang passed away in 1972.
” There are many cities in the world that are growing and changing. We should not walk down the path of ruins and repeat other peoples’ mistakes. One day, you will see the problems in Beijing- from transport to industrial pollution to over population.”- Liang
He predicted the future. Beijing is now over populated and crowded. The government who destroyed their own city is slowly realising their mistake although publicly they would never admit any wrongdoing. For them to listen to suggestions is like asking a pig to fly. Some renovation is taking place but what is the point now? There are also talks of new urban changes. The government is thinking about relocating Beijing/ or parts of it to another place. That was what Liang proposed many many years ago (facepalm- IDIOTS!).
It is too late.
I might sound very anti-china. Let me clarify one thing: China is the country, the history and culture …not the government. I’m not fond of any governments but I will always love China. I fear that it is going down the crapper.
It saddens me that his own people didn’t get what he was trying to do. Now, it’s far too late to stop the disaster that Beijing has turned into – one big urban nightmare. The thousand-year old historical landmarks that was demolished to make way for messy metros, skyscrapers, uniform looking squares and fancy mall sickens me.
Beijing is no longer the same Beijing and China is no longer the same China. Nara and Kyoto remains well-preserved. The irony! A Chinese who can’t even save his own nation’s capital city because of dumb politicians- such pathetic self-destruction!
Thank you Mr Liang for you efforts and I’m sorry that people lacked the foresight to respect you. You are obviously too advanced for those idiots.
I wish I could trade either Kyoto or Nara in for Old Beijing.
I’d rather see this old chaotic Beijing than ridiculous skyscrapers and tasteless high-rise buildings.
Of one whose hand, like the base Indian, threw a pearl away richer than all his tribe