The head of Beijing's administration of cultural heritage Thursday responded to a public outcry sparked by the city's plan to rebuild six historical structures, saying the plan aims to make up for historical loss.
The six structures are mainly city gates of the old capital city of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), China's last two feudal dynasties. Most of the city gates and city walls of Ming and Qing were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for new roads or subway lines.
"After New China was established, the city government demolished the Ming and Qing city walls for the sake of transport. It's a historical regret," said the administration's director Kong Fanzhi.
"The rebuilding was designed to make up for the historical loss," Kong added.
The agency announced last Thursday that it will invest 1 billion yuan (159 million U.S. dollars), the largest annual spending of its kind, on relics restoration and renovation this year. The investment represents a significant increase from 150 million yuan spent annually over the past couple of years.
The plan has sparked a public outcry over the past week as many question the lavish spending on "fake" cultural relics.
In response to the public questioning, the municipal bureau of cultural heritage said in a statement Thursday that the 1 billion yuan investment was an indication of Beijing's determination to protect the city's historical heritage.
The money will not only be spent on the rebuilding of the six iconic architectural structures, but also on renovations of six world heritage sites and other 100 relics, it said.
The bureau also has launched a survey on its website to solicit public opinions on the rebuilding and renovation plan.
About 47 percent of the respondents supported the initiative, saying it will help restore the taste of ancient Beijing, while 28 percent said rebuilding was meaningless, the bureau said, declining to reveal the number of netizens surveyed.
The survey results, however, could not be viewed online and therefore were questioned if they truly reflect the viewpoints of the general public.
"Once the cultural relics were demolished, they could never be restored. Even if they are rebuilt, the copies should not be called 'relics,'" said Xie Chensheng, an advisor to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
"I don't oppose the rebuilding of iconic ancient structures if existing relics are well protected. But as for the agenda of the relics protection authorities, the protection should always be the priority," Xie said.
The public outcry over the past week was also fueled by seemingly endless demolition of some other old Beijing buildings, mostly notably the "siheyuan," or traditional courtyard homes.
Over the years, many old courtyard homes in Beijing have been bulldozed to make way for real estate or infrastructure projects. The former courtyard homes of many celebrities could not avoid the same fate either.