Demolition owristbands atlantaf ancient mansion put to a stop

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A view of the old buildings that remain in the Cao family mansion. GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

An ancient mansion belonging to a family surnamed Cao in Shanghai has been placed on the temporary protection list by local authorities after the initial phase of demolition works sparked controversy among members of the public in November.

Situated in Pudong New Area"s Gaohang town, the mansion comprises a number of antique buildings. The structures that have not been torn down include a pair of two-story buildings and a single-level house.

According to local media, the department in charge of historical relics in Pudong New Area has sent a request to the town"s officials for a moratorium on the demolition. The two parties will also work to develop protection programs and invite experts to conduct field visits to these buildings.

The decision has been applauded by the public and experts from the cultural and architectural fields who have pointed out the mansion"s historic value. Zhou Minfa, vice president of the historical society in Pudong New Area, said that the mansion can shed light on the possible origins of Shanghai.

"Previously, it was thought that the first town in Shanghai was constructed at the end of the Song Dynasty (960–1279)," said Zhou.

"However, the family"s genealogy clearly states that the first town was built in Shanghai in 1074, which means that Shanghai should be even older at 944 years old."

According to historians, the group of people who once lived in Gaohang town were the descendants of Cao Bin, a famous general who helped to establish the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127).

These people later moved to Shanghai during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279) and first settled in Caojiadu, an area located in today"s Jing"an district, before moving to Pudong. Cao"s family later set up an ancestral hall in Gaohang town during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

"Everything in the Cao family mansion, even a stone or a plant, is a witness of the century-long history of Gaohang town," said Lou Chenghao from the Shanghai Shikumen Cultural Studies Committee.

"This property has an extraordinary significance in the research on Caojiadu, Caolu town and even Shanghai."

Locals in Gaohang town have also expressed hope that the mansion would be preserved.

"It will be a pity if these buildings are demolished. It"s the best memorial of the area," said Cao Yuanping, 74, whose family has lived in the region for dozens of generations.

The houses in the mansion"s courtyards were five meters high and had curved ceilings, a rarity in Gaohang town. Historical data shows that there used to be ancestral temples and memorials in the mansion.

In contrast to the windows in the homes of ordinary families, the windows in Cao"s houses were inset with high-quality clamshells. The Sitong Bridge across Lujiu River in the town, which is still in use now, was built by the Cao family.

Experts have called for the local authorities to deliberate over the demolition of every ancient building in the city that has yet to be placed on the protection list.

"Historic architectures, regardless of whether they are famous, cannot be restored once they are torn down," said Ruan Yisan, a professor of architecture department at Tongji University.

"The government should invite the related organizations to appraise the cultural relics" value and propose the necessary protection measures. For ancient buildings like Cao"s mansion, it is necessary for authorities to declare them as protected relics and commence restoration. This would allow the public to have a clearer understanding of Shanghai"s history."

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