A wrecking ball for Beijing's history

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On the latest of Beijing's ancient lanes to be scheduled for demolition, a tale of two cities is unfolding. Their diverging stories have probably sealed the leafy alleyway's fate.

At No. 21, Li Xiaoling cannot wait for the bulldozers to roll up. After 17 years living with her daughter in a decrepit one-room rental shack thrown up in the middle of an old courtyard "this is a good chance for us to improve our living conditions," she says.

A few doors down, Xia Jie is determined to defend the traditional "four-walled yard" house that she inherited from her grandfather. "It is Beijing's cultural heritage," she says defiantly, "and it's my private property."

The conflicting interests of renters crammed into slumlike corners of the old yards on one hand, and owner-occupiers seeking to protect their patrimony on the other, makes a common front unlikely among the 90 families facing eviction from Dongsi Batiao street.

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