Hutong Histories 2009 | part III

Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | August 7, 2009
Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | August 7, 2009

In the final chapter of our Hutong Histories trilogy we provide more background, new images and touch upon recent updates in the Qianmen redevelopment, a much contested and hutong-hyped area located South of Tian’anmen Square. Oh Charles, Where Art Thou?

Around Gulou Dajie subway station, machines are replacing men. After weeks of knocking down walls, finally small bulldozers are entering the territory. Most likely to speed up the destruction and flattening the area in the coming weeks. As mentioned in the first post, these works are done in order to create a new subway station connecting Line 2 and Line 8. The current demolishing seems necessary in order to curve around the Drum & Bell Tower, which is located 1km South of the wrecking works. There is few information about these works, with exception of this article (not so good CN>EN Google-translation) and the following diagram:

Line 2 meets Line 8 at Gulou Dajie subway station | source: beijing.qianlong.com
Line 2 meets Line 8 at Gulou Dajie subway station | source: beijing.qianlong.com

In reaction to the first Hutong Histories post, Bryan Finoki from Subtopia asked us if “there are new forms of activism desperately trying to render something positive out of the rubble.” An attempt of response would be to refer to the “Picking up some durian fruit on Jiu Gulou road“-post on Danwei. It is the English translation of the Chinese first coverage of the destruction surrounding the Gulou Dajie Subway station station:

The owner sat on top of some rubble with a dazed look, when he saw us in the crowd, he stood up and took from the fridge the durian fruit he had “saved for us”.

The reason for this: planned evictions to make room for the number 8 subway line. He received the notice a long time ago and has been looking for a place. But the landlord has also signed with the Eviction Office, and didn’t bother with what the original tenancy contract stated. On Saturday they called on the phone and by Monday somebody came to evict the fruit sellers.

Area around Gulou Dajie subway station (left side ringroad) | August 7, 2009
Area around Gulou Dajie subway station (left side ringroad) | August 7, 2009

A slight return to pre-Olympic times when one of more eccentric hutong pre-Olympic preservation plans, for the Qianmen area, was launched by Prince Charles. In June 2008 The Guardian published “Charles takes on China to save Ming dynasty houses from Beijing’s concrete carbuncles“:

“Through his links with China the prince learned about the hutong housing being lost amid all this rapid development and he has offered his foundation’s help,” the prince’s spokesman said. “It is not about criticising Chinese development per se, just about ensuring vulnerable heritage is not lost.”

A June 2009 article in People’s Daily called “Heaven Street: Fake-over kills businesss” looks at the present state of the Qianmen area and sketches a rather grim picture of the effects of the renewal effort (it is safe to state that Prince Charles didn’t had a hand in this):

“Let’s all just hope this project fails so it can serve as a warning to other cities about protecting local cultural heritage.” (…) “Hundreds and thousands of original residents were expelled from Qianmen before the project began,” said Hu, “but the suburban housing they were promised as compensation for moving out has not even begun being built yet.”

Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | August 7, 2009
Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | August 7, 2009

SOHO China, the developers behind the Qianmen project, have been facing a series of difficulties during the past year. Their attempt to open the area in time for the 2008 Olympic Games was nearly and only temporarily met and currently October 1 2009 is scheduled as the new opening day. In “Builder Soho China Stumbles in Beijing” (December 2008) the difficulties are explained as follows:

Until last year, Soho China had avoided sensitive projects. Then it decided to take on the redevelopment of a labyrinth of alleys and lanes in Beijing’s old quarters.The Qianmen district was one of the last functioning old-town neighborhoods in the city of 17 million people. Soho’s plan was to rebuild the district into a pedestrian mall of faux-1920s shops.

But the project quickly ran into trouble. It had the backing of the local district government, but contravened Beijing’s historical preservation plans, which had called for Qianmen to be protected. When nongovernmental activists learned of the project, they protested. One group, the China Heritage Foundation, posted an eight-page critique of Soho’s plans on the Internet, saying it threatened to wreck a valuable neighborhood.

Potemkin preservation? In the mean time hutongs are slowly disappearing, transported in trucks, pulled down by manpower. A couple of snapshots.

Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | August 7, 2009
Area around Gulou Dajie subway station | August 7, 2009

View from Oriental Bay Hotel on Gulou Dajie subway station area | August 7, 2009
View from Oriental Bay Hotel on Gulou Dajie subway station area | August 7, 2009

Pictures by movingcities.org

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Hutong Histories 2009 | part I | MovingCities
Hutong Histories 2009 | part II | MovingCities

3 thoughts on “Hutong Histories 2009 | part III”

    1. Thanks Manu!
      The link is for sure of interest (as well as your other China and urban related writings) especially because it talks about the perception of Chinese urban development from what seems to be an “outsiders’ perspective”. The reason why we want to bring up this preservation-idea, is to understand of what is left over from the fear of the future that initially pushed this point high up the agenda (and melting in the air afterwards).
      I believe it is more interesting to deal with the ambition of having a continuity of thought, research and publication on this. It seems to me that the pre-Olympic research and publication rush on China has led to a demand for conclusions on the architectural and urban development here. Now these are slowly becoming canonized, becoming paradigms that nail the present in one fixed image. Statistics are good to support and convey those ideas, but don’t tell anything about the reality on the ground. It is crazy to see how these conclusions and statistic are now living a life on their own and one doesn’t feel that continuity of analysis, observation and interpretation is what the present time demands. The reality is still out there; changing, mutating, transforming itself day in and day out…

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