Beijing | Gulou Hutong(s)

Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | May 20, 2010
Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | May 20, 2010

Gulou hutong 胡同 Beijing | A short trip down the metropolitan memory lane: in 2008 we published Making Minced Meat out of Memory [MONU Magazine] and in 2009 our Hutong Histories-triptych [1, 2 & 3]. It’s 2010 and the destruction of the Gulou area is still going strong. These days D+STREAM picks up Hutong Cemeteries; the New York Times reports on it [same old, same old] and MovingCities revisits the Gulou area.

The destruction of the Gulou area depicts a grim picture of the future of Beijing’s inner city structures. For background the New York Times provides, with ‘Bulldozers Meet Historic Chinese Neighborhood [July 20, 2010], a write-up of the known, generic and multi-voiced opinions. The characters are set: talk to a local resident, a professor of urban planning, a foreigner and an activist. The description of the hutongs are equally known: charming, historic and originality mixed with anxiety. And the future is here: fake, mega-developments, luxury brands and polished spaces. And add the right timing: the hutong-stories are a sinisterly good summer read. For at least 4 years these are the ingredients for any article on the disappearance of Beijing’s old structures. Looking back to the coverage of similar forms of destruction, it is hard to tell how any debate can advance critically in this manner. Nonetheless if one is a newbie, read the NYT aforementioned article:

These days, those who reside in the neighborhood known as Gulou are anxiously counting the days until construction crews begin turning its 32 charmingly decrepit acres into a polished tourist attraction called Beijing Time Cultural City.

Anchored by the ancient Drum and Bell Towers, the $73 million redevelopment will include courtyard homes for the rich, a “timekeeping” museum and an underground mall, presumably well stocked with Rolexes and Cartiers — or perhaps their more affordable counterfeit cousins.

All in all, it is exactly for this kind of coverage that we suggest the term “hutong hypochondria“: referring to people suffering from an excessive preoccupation with the city’s history. Sadly, any attempt to bring a historic understanding to the urban hutong agenda, seems to be done by those who have lost any sense of historical continuity.
Below, some snapshots from our May walk through the Gulou area.

Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | May 20, 2010
Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | May 20, 2010

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1 thought on “Beijing | Gulou Hutong(s)”

  1. Can you do a post on Tiantongyuan 天通苑?This is a massive sprawling residential area 小区 in North Beijing. I think this is where all the elderly end up after they’ve received their compensation from the government/developers. A secluded life in in air-conditioned purgatory awaiting their inevitable fate.

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