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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 00:23 GMT 01:23 UK
Beijing homes make way for history
Workers on a building site, Beijing
Beijing is getting a facelift ahead of the Olympics

Visitors arriving in Beijing may be forgiven for wondering where it has all gone - the history, that is.

Today China's capital is a vast sprawling metropolis of concrete and steel.

A woman sits amid her belongings after her home where she lived for 50 years was torn down
Homes in parts of the city have been torn down
Six-lane avenues slice through its centre and glass towers crowd the skyline.

When Mao Zedong and his Communist armies marched in to liberate Beijing 50 years ago it was all very different.

A mighty medieval wall 40-feet high still ringed the ancient imperial city. It was a bastion against centuries of marauding invaders.

But the arrival of the Communists was to herald the wall's demise. Mao himself ordered the wall torn down.

They just want to get rid of us

Han Liang, man facing eviction
He called it a remnant of China's feudal past - a past he wanted to erase.

Now, 50 years on, as China prepares to host the 2008 Olympic games, China's leaders have decided they need some of that feudal history back.

A large chunk of Beijing's medieval city wall is to be rebuilt.

There is just one catch. The site where the wall once stood is now a shanty town - home to thousands of poor workers.

Shattered faith

Many of them are the families of railway workers. They came to the city in the 1950s and 60s to build new railway station, then later the city's underground railway.

In return they were allowed to build their little houses on the land where the old wall had once stood

Demolition worker, Beijing
Building sites are springing up across Beijing
But now the Communist Party has ordered them evicted.

Han Liang is a dishevelled 35-year-old. He lives in a squalid two-room house in the heart of the old shanty town with his wife and small child.

Neither of them have a proper job. They get by running a stall on the street that runs along the south side of their ramshackle neighbourhood.

Mr Han used to be a member of the Communist Party. Now his eviction papers have arrived. He has 20 days to get out.

His perhaps naive faith in the Communist Party and China's legal system has been shattered.

"We support the rebuilding of the wall," he said. "All we are asking is to be treated fairly, but this, what they are doing to us, it completely illegal.

"There is no law that says they can do this. They just want to get rid of us."

Han Liang is determined to fight the eviction. Two months ago he launched a lawsuit against the city government.

But it has done nothing to halt the demolition. Instead the police have come knocking on his door.

"They warned me if I carry on doing this I will only get in to more trouble" he said.

The city government has threatened to withdraw its paltry compensation offer from anyone who refuses to move. Han Liang has been warned not to talk to the media.

One cannot help feeling the irony of it all. People like Mr Han are exactly the poor workers and peasant in whose name Mao and his comrades set up the "People's Republic".

How times have changed. Today the Communist Party worships anew the feudal past it once scorned. Beijing's imperial wall is to be rebuilt.

The workers and peasants who stand in its way are being sent packing.

See also:

20 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
15 Jul 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
13 Jul 01 | Olympic Votes
17 Nov 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
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