The Chinese economic reform and opening during the 1980s is not only credited for China’s modernisation – through accelerated urbanisation and its social and economic legislation – it is also acknowledged for the establishment of heritage legislation to protect Chinese cultural capital. In contrast, the consequences of these reforms are concomitantly blamed for the current imbalance between urban development and heritage protection that in the current reality favours economic growth over heritage policies. With heritage awareness on the rise, the recent government-led projects have spearheaded new directions, merging neoliberal planning and heritage protection in regeneration projects. This paper will discuss the Yihe Mansions project (), Nanjing, a regeneration project earmarked as a residential area for senior officials in the Republic of China. As one of four cases of a research programme, the Yihe Mansions case will illustrate the application of a developmental model, exploring the intricate balance between economic development, protection and contemporary lifestyles in inner urban areas. This paper also deliberates a new dialogue between decision makers and end users under the public ownership of land, exploring how the government integrates the public’s wishes as part of state-driven real estate projects. Applying unobtrusive and obtrusive research methodologies, this paper is grounded in a more holistic understanding of the renegotiation of Chinese metropolitan areas between development and protection that aims to establish a dynamic and feasible model of heritage protection in Chinese urban settings.