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November 10, 2011

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Old man's stand saves ancient residence

A TOWN government yesterday agreed to retain a 275-year-old building in the Pudong New Area after the 78-year-old owner had lived in the dilapidated building alone without tap water and electricity for seven years to protect it from demolition.

Shen Peixin burns candles and has dug a well while living in the single remaining room of a former luxury residential complex built by his ancestor during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in what is now Tangzhen Town.

The retired marine, who receives a 900 yuan (US$142) monthly government allowance, said: "I was born in the house, married my wife and became old in the house, so I will protect the property left by my ancestors."

The shabby 200-square-meter building with a steep, tiled roof stands alone in wasteland, as the town government tore down surrounding buildings in 2004 to make way for a public park.

A stone arch with elaborately engraved people, birds and horses stands at the gate, but the carvings are now worn. Two stone lions stand before a courtyard containing the piles of firewood Shen uses to cook and the well from which he draws water.

He has divided the former sitting room into three parts and put a bed in the middle. A big candle stands on a table spotted with wax. Another room is used to store the potatoes and pumpkins he has grown beside the house.

Shen said the original residence comprised more than 20 buildings and covered thousands of square meters. Qing Emperor Qianlong is said to have visited the house twice, as Shen's ancestor was a high-level official.

The town government began demolishing buildings in the area in 2004 and offered to move Shen to a new home nearby, but Shen rejected the offer and vowed to protect what was left of the building.

Kang Yehong, a local press officer, said the government will invite experts to re-evaluate its historic value.

Li Kongsan, an official with the Shanghai Cultural Relics Management Commission, said: "Despite the damage, the building still has some value worth protecting and should be listed at least as a district-level protected historic building."

Li said officials would first try to accommodate Shen elsewhere because of the condition of the building and would invite experts to work out how to restore it.


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