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History vs. history: Plan to bulldoze courtyard homes for 18th-century-style square in Beijing

  • 02ddeb0f0e54d402260f6a706700bd0e.jpg

    In this photo taken on Dec. 26, 2012, a bicycle is parked outside a Hutong home with a demolition notice seen behind the entrance wall near the historical Drum and Bell Tower in Beijing. The district government wants to demolish these dwellings, move their occupants to bigger apartments farther from the city center and redevelop a square in 18th century Qing Dynasty fashion. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) (The Associated Press)

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    In this Jan. 15, 2013 photo, seen from the Bell Tower, a crane works on a construction site near the Drum Tower among "hutong" courtyard homes in central Beijing, China. The district government wants to demolish these dwellings, move their occupants to bigger apartments farther from the city center and redevelop a square in 18th century Qing Dynasty fashion. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan) (The Associated Press)

  • faf58ba30e4fd402260f6a7067006247.jpg

    In this Jan. 15, 2013 photo, a resident, bottom, walks in a "hutong" neighborhood behind the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower in central Beijing, China. The district government wants to demolish these dwellings, move their occupants to bigger apartments farther from the city center and redevelop a square in 18th century Qing Dynasty fashion. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan) (The Associated Press)

  • b9c5bc830e52d402260f6a7067001cfa.jpg

    In this photo taken on Dec. 26, 2012, people chat outside a Hutong home as a demolition notice is placed on the wall near the historical Drum and Bell Tower in Beijing. The district government wants to demolish these dwellings, move their occupants to bigger apartments farther from the city center and redevelop a square in 18th century Qing Dynasty fashion. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) (The Associated Press)

  • 59f376a60e5bd502260f6a706700415f.jpg

    In this photo taken on Dec. 26, 2012, tourists walk past the Hutong houses near the historical Drum and Bell Tower, right in the background, in Beijing. The district government wants to demolish the scuffed courtyard homes, move their occupants to bigger apartments farther from the city center and redevelop a square in 18th century Qing Dynasty fashion. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) (The Associated Press)

In a corner of old Beijing, the government may soon be both destroying history and remaking it.

District officials want to re-create a piece of China's glorious dynastic past by rebuilding a square near the Drum and Bell towers in 18th-century Qing Dynasty fashion. To do it, they will demolish dozens of scuffed courtyard homes that preservationists say have themselves become a part of a cultural history that is fast disappearing as construction transforms the capital.

Because of renovation, few of the homes can claim to be particularly old. But they are in crooked alleyways known as "hutongs," which formed around courtyard houses and date back centuries.

The plan to redo the neighborhood angers those who see it as swapping real, living Beijing history with something static and fake.