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End of an era?
BY Xiao Changyan (Chinadaily) Updated:2004-07-05 18:35

 

  Beijing's newest artistic hub will be razed to the ground unless a determined campaign stops the bulldozers.

  Dashanzi, hailed last year as Beijing's new art centre, faces being pulled down at the end of next year to make way for a high-tech electronics hub.

  According to the city planning schedule, the area is to be developed into another Silicon Valley.

  New office buildings will replace all the old workshops - including the now well-known 798 factory - in Dashanzi within four years, under current proposals.

  Construction workers have already begun the demolition process.

  With the disappearance of the Bauhaus-style workshops also go dozens of artists' studios - and their collective dream of establishing the area as a key new cultural landmark in China.

  Some of the artists though are determined not to give up without a fight.

  Li Xiangqun, an established sculptor elected as the deputy of the 12th People's Congress of Beijing this year, handed over a formal bill to the municipal government to save the art centre on February 20 this year.

  The bill calls for "an immediate suspension of the planned large-scale destruction" and "a re-evaluation of the area's potential worth as a cultural centre instead of a copied Zhongguancun electronic zone on the basis of extensive investigations."

  "It is not just my opinion," stresses Li. "Lots of artists and men of insight have asked me to make the proposal."

  Li now rents a studio in 798 Factory: "I have witnessed the stunning development of the area from deserted factories to a booming art community. But now numerous galleries, studios, bars and design centres have emerged like bamboo shoots after the spring rain."

  The area has certainly been a big hit with struggling artists seeking the perfect ambience: "Low rent, lots of space, an open atmosphere and an artistic vibe attracted me to move in here," recalled Xu Yong, the president of 798 Space art centre.

  Like other artists, he has invested a lot of money on infrastructure and interior decoration.

  But, in common with all the other artists, he can only rent the space until December 31, 2005. That is the deadline given by the Seven-star Huadian Science and Technology Group, the owner of the land.

  The company has stopped leasing more space to artists and will not permit present lessees to renew their contracts. It plans to sell the land to get a large assignment fee. It also hopes to re-employ most of its 10,000 laid-off workers from the former military factories in the future electronics area.

  "It is really a hard nut for the government to crack. Hard consultations are needed between several sides," Xu Yong admitted.

  Li Xiangqun remains cool-headed about the result of his proposal: "The future of the area is up to how much the government wants to save the art zone. I am not optimistic as there is a long way ahead. But we must try our best."

  Even so, not everyone is happy with the way the burgeoning art area has developed: "Even if it remains untouched, the art zone still faces a lot of problems in the future," grumbled Zhu Jun, a 63-year-old architect who has recently rented a studio in factory 798.

  He has returned from the United States to develop his career in his home country, but now admits to some disappointment with the Dashanzi art zone.

  "It is now degenerating into an art-themed park instead of a real SOHO art centre, " Zhu signed. As Dashanzi wins rising fame, more people and organizations try to break into the area. Rent has doubled in a year. For instance, it now costs 6,000 yuan (US$725) for a 100-sqm room. Such high rent has prevented creative but poor artists from moving in while many newcomers are profit-minded individuals and art organizations.

  "The area may turn into a fashionable visitor spot with a fake art feel," Zhu frowns. He says that many art works in the area are sold at an unreasonable high price to visitors: "In this sense culture is made by businessmen here, not created by artists."

  The municipal government will make a final decision on the area's future this year.

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