Dilapidated, crowded, and poorly maintained, the former homes of some of China’s most prominent military figures were hardly fit for tourists. Yet these historical buildings, dating from the 1930s and now inhabited by locals, had been designated cultural relics, officially protecting them from demolition.
But on June 25, seven buildings, including that of Liu Yalou, the first air force commander of the People’s Liberation Army, were demolished to build new homes.
On Tuesday, eleven officials were held liable and punished for the destruction of the buildings, which were linked to China’s revolutionary history in Harbin, capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, according to a statement issued by Harbin’s discipline watchdog.
Local resident Gu Chongxue had lived in one of the heritage buildings since he was a child. He told Sixth Tone the land requisition office had promised to allocate him two new apartments where his old home used to be within a year and a half. Gu, who currently lives with his mother at a nursing home, is now concerned that the heritage battle may affect the chances of him moving into a new home on time. “Despite my now-uncertain future, I still believe the old buildings should not have been torn down.”
In 2010 the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), the top Chinese body for safeguarding archaeological sites, designated the buildings as cultural relics.
SACH said that besides Liu’s former residence, five other buildings and sites were also related to the history of the People’s Liberation Army, with the lone exception being a silverware shop. The statement went on to describe the loss of the historically important buildings as “dire.”
Located in Harbin’s Shuangcheng District, the structures were demolished as part of a redevelopment push by the local government, according to the statement from the local party discipline inspection commission.
On Aug. 25, local prosecutors arrested a suspect surnamed Chang, who had been a site manager for one of the contractors in charge of the demolition. This led to the subsequent dismissal of low-ranking local official Chen Zibiao, director of Shuangcheng’s land requisition office. Chen was removed from his post for failing to ensure the protection of important community relics and for inadequately supervising the demolition crew.
The other 10 officials implicated in the scandal included Mao Chen, the district head. He has been ordered by the discipline watchdog to make a public apology, which he has yet to do.
Demolition of the heritage sites drew ire online. One comment on microblog site Weibo read: “Clearly they knew about the relics but still demolished them. Was it because the demolition site was far away from the central government, or because they were greedy for money? Those places were our memory and our irreplaceable history.” A second commenter, Kuodalikai, lamented, “The roots of the Communist Party have been dismantled.”
(Header image: A red sign among the ruins of Liu Yalou’s former residence designates the area as a protected site, Harbin, Heilongjiang province, Aug. 27, 2016. Xiao Gang/VCG)