Everywhere, including Beijing, the saying “one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure” is true. Li Songtang, now in his 60s, started collecting architectural details of houses being torn down mainly during the 70s modernisation push. He now has a collection of over 10,000 items of carved lintels, gates, screens, garden statuary, etc., of which about 5,000 are on view at a courtyard home he owns right next to the Confucius Temple and which he has turned into China’s first privately owned museum. It is truly like stepping into a treasure trove: dimly lit rooms overflow with statuettes, stone carvings fill the wall space, one on top of another, with barely room between them to identify them (mostly in Chinese, some in rudimentary English).
It is said that by the middle of the 20th century, Beijing had about 920,000 private residences, most of them set out in hutongs or neighborhoods accessible through small alleyways. Nowadays, 90% of these homes are gone, mostly replaced by skyscrapers, commercial buildings and shopping centers.
But if you want to find a few remnants of what architectural jewels were to be found on some of the houses, visit this small museum. You will not be disappointed.