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Model gives glimpse of old Beijing

Updated: 2013-08-22 23:18
By Jin Haixing ( China Daily)

Restored miniature shows clusters of courtyards surrounding Forbidden City

Some people can still remember what Beijing looked like 60 years ago with its meandering streets and courtyard communities. But for most residents the city is a bustling, modern metropolis.

Beijing is a byword for development and many of the older structures have made way for cement and steel structures. But a tantalizing glimpse of what the city looked like is about to come into full public view.

Model gives glimpse of old Beijing

The sand table model, showing old Beijing's appearance 64 years ago, is being restored for display in the Beijing Urban Construction Archives Museum.[sun yue / for China Daily]

A model on a sand table, made 64 years ago, replicating the city's landscape in 1949, will provide a bird's eye view after it is fully restored later in September.

The model, in the Beijing Urban Construction Archives Museum, covers 75 square meters and has 94 parts.

"The restoration is the most thorough since city surveyors finished the model in 1953," said Jiang Rong, a spokeswoman of the Beijing Urban Construction Archives Museum.

Jiang said the model was made from 1950 to 1953, with traditional skills to build the miniature replica.

The model was built to a scale of 1:1,000, and vividly shows the Old Town, with clusters of courtyard homes with the Forbidden City in central place.

Jiang said that in 1949, the Beijing government decided to arrange a survey of its geographical layout. The model provided a quick reference point and visual context.

In 1990, to preserve it, the museum placed it in a special room.

Four restorers have dedicated themselves to giving a valued glimpse of history.

Shan Guoying, one of the restorers, said the repair work was "detailed and time-consuming".

"We have to work six days a week and can only finish two to four parts of the model each day," Shan said.

Clearing dust was the first and most difficult step as the items are small.

Almost all materials used are the same as for the originals: wood for houses and copper wire for trees.

But for the walls of houses, they changed from paper to plastic for durability.

"It was an emotional moment to see the original color being brought back to life, with gray houses and gold for the Forbidden City," Jiang said.

The model will be encased in glass from September, said Zhang Bin, director of the museum, adding that the restoration will cost about 500,000 yuan ($81,800).

Zhang said that the museum planned to use 3-D technology to display the model in the future.

Foreign visitors are also welcome to have a look but they need to apply to the State Archives Administration.

Jiang Rong, the spokeswoman, said the museum will invite experts and residents to submit their memories of old Beijing and help identify some buildings on the model.

"This is good news for those who are interested in old Beijing," a writer, in his 40s, who gave his surname as Zhao, told China Daily.

"The city has experienced drastic changes in the past 60 years and we need more preservation efforts, both physically and spiritually," Zhao said.

Zhang Wei, 36, founded the website Old Beijing and has collected a valuable collection of photos and stories.

The model is valuable because there was little advanced technology to keep the city's historic information decades ago, Zhang said.

"More viewing of the model will mean that it brings more value to the public," he added.

Yan Ran contributed to this story.


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