For farmers living in Xiaosikong Village, home to one of China's oldest and largest archaeological sites, their dreams of moving house have been shattered - again.
The village was told at the beginning of March by the district government a total construction ban was in place. This followed a Xinhua investigation in late February that revealed the illegal construction of homes in the area, which was causing damage to the UNESCO cultural heritage site.
Officially, not one single building has been allowed to be erected over the past two decades in Xiaosikong and 13 neighboring villages in Anyang City of central China's Henan Province.
As a discovery site of oracle bones and script, Yinxu, or the Yin Ruins in today's Anyang, boasts archaeological remnants of the ancient city of Yin, the last capital of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC - 1046 BC).
According to a local government plan, an area of nearly 30 square kilometers, home to 20,000 residents, is banned from construction activities as building work could damage the earth underneath. Factories in the area have also been closed to protect the UNESCO heritage site.
However, historic preservation has led to conflict.
"I can't let myself starve to death," said a farmer who lives in the protection area.
There is neither industry nor livestock in the area. Even planting and irrigation are strictly limited in case ruins are damaged. As a result, farmers have become worse off without regular income.
"Villagers chipped in to build a small auditorium for weddings and funerals but failed. We wanted to dig a well for bathing but couldn't," said the Wuguan Village secretary, surnamed Wu.
Since the inscription of Yin Ruins on the world cultural heritage list in 2001, 78 factories have been torn down to make room for preservation and greenery. It has taken its toll on the local economy.
In Xiaotun Village, the collective income was 400,000 yuan (65,295 U.S. dollars) before 2001, but is now 20,000 yuan .
"Without a house and enough money, getting married becomes impossible for young men. If you take a walk in any of the villages, you will find a dozen unmarried men," said Wu. "Some of them are over 40."
Petitions concerning housing "are a headache for the government," said Wang Xuejun, deputy chief of Anyang City's Yindu District, which has 12 villages in the protection area.
With nearly half of the district land area is left idle, local farmers have no more than 0.5 mu (0.033 hectares) of per capita farmland.
The Xinhua investigation found that a dozen of three- to five-storey buildings have been secretly built and some more are under construction in several villages -- all without local authority approval.
"You will have to cut my head off before you demolish anything behind me," a village head told law enforcement officials, who had been sent by the government.
Locals have made sacrifices for heritage conservation. They pinned their hopes on tourism but to date it has disappointed them.
Most palaces, temples and tombs are still preserved underground. Some sites such as ancient workshops have been sealed off for protection.
The Garden Museum of Yin Ruins, the main tourist attraction in the area, fails to deliver as there is little on show.
This has led to a decrease in the number of tourists. A well-intentioned tourist economy that promised to benefit local farmers has turned out to be nothing but lip service.
The illegal construction of homes is also impacting tourism. They are damaging the landscape and threatening relics underneath, said Tang Jigen, director of Anyang Station of the Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
In Xiaosikong Village, over forty three-storey buildings face the ruins of ancient temples and palaces.
"This is the core area of emperors' tombs and ancient architectures, where the precious earth layer of Shang Dynasty is only half a meter down," Tang said. "But villagers dug as deep as two meters to lay the foundations for their buildings."
Village head Sun Weidong told Xinhua that more than 60 households had no choice but to defy the law.
"We have appealed to government departments, but all in vain," Sun said, adding that despite the construction ban he was determined on addressing villagers' housing problems.
By the end of 2013, the archaeological institute submitted reports on the current situation and potential risks of illegal constructions. But no response has been received so far.
BREAKING THE DEADLOCK
According to Wang Xuejun, the government cannot just dispatch a fleet of bulldozers to crush illegal buildings against local residents' will.
Improving people's livelihood is a priority for governments, but public and national interests should not give way to immediate regional interests, said Tang. "After all, cultural heritage itself is also a part of people's livelihood."
Tang added, "Ideally, additional land out of the protection area should be allotted to each village and a heritage compensation fund set up to support impoverished farmers."
The local government has organized a working group consisting of members from the city's discipline inspection, land and resources, urban construction and law enforcement departments to investigate the conflict between heritage conservation and people's livelihood.
Officials with the city's publicity department said a system combining rights, liabilities and benefits will be established to better protect the Yin Ruins.
It could be some time before the conflict is resolved.