Let Beijing Be Beijing

November 17, 1993

It is not often this newspaper has the chance to applaud government regulation in a Communist country. New rules for architectural correctness promulgated by the Beijing Planning and Construction Committee deserve the praise of everyone who wants to see national and city character preserved.

The international "match-box" look is out. Traditional Chinese architecture, married to modern building techniques, is in. The goal is for Beijing to look like Beijing well into the next century.

This is a lesson for Paris, which allowed too many high-rises before getting serious about its heritage; for London, which did the same and now can't fill them all; and for Washington, which craves statehood if only to overturn a congressional height limitation that keeps the Capitol pre-eminent and preserves the city's unique character.

The go-go Chinese economy with buildings sprouting everywhere is good for China and will change its face. But the desire to preserve the uniqueness of its capital is justified. Preservation rules were promulgated in 1985. But "failure to carry out these rules strictly, and the thousands of match-box buildings that have been mushrooming every year, have been damaging old Beijing's uniqueness," according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency.

This yen for Chinese purity may sound like Maoism, but has a different rationale. "After all, when tourists come to the city, what they see should give them a feeling that they have come to Beijing of China, not Europe nor America," said Xuan Xiangliu, chief of the city's planning committee.

Beijing needs capitalism in the building industry; it needs political pluralism; it needs human rights and free expression. But it does not need to look like Towson. Or vice versa. It is the only Beijing we have.

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