News / Asia

    Beijing Art District Faces Threat of Wrecking Ball

    Man rides through the heart of Caochangdi Village
    Man rides through the heart of Caochangdi Village

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Stephanie Ho

    A fight is brewing in the outskirts of Beijing. The argument pits artists against developers. As is often the case in China, where evicted residents around the country accuse developers and officials of colluding to make money by confiscating real estate, the conflict centers on what to do about a piece of land.

    Caochangdi is a small village in Beijing's northeast corner, with a one square kilometer residential zone.

    But the artists who live and work in Caochangdi say the area's cultural significance outweighs its size.

    Internationally famous artist Ai Weiwei built the first studio there – the China Art Archives and Warehouse – in 1999. Since then, hundreds of artists and others in China's burgeoning art community have joined him in the area. The artists say they have contributed to the community by erecting tens of thousands of square meters of art galleries and studios, and adding thousands of diverse outsiders to the population mix in the village.

    Their community, however, is in danger.

    Photographer and gallery owner Rong Rong speaks at opening of Caochangdi PhotoSpring
    Photographer and gallery owner Rong Rong speaks at opening of Caochangdi PhotoSpring

    Photographer Rong Rong has lived in Caochangdi for nearly a decade. In 2007, he and his wife opened Three Shadows Gallery, Beijing's largest center for developing, displaying and archiving photographs.

    Rong Rong says Caochangdi residents face what he describes as a bitter truth – the area has been claimed by local district authorities for redevelopment. He says the demolition date is not clear, but he anticipates it will be soon.

    More than 40 art organizations recently signed an open letter calling on the authorities to reverse the decision to redevelop the area that includes Caochangdi. The letter calls the local government's decision "arbitrary, unreasonable and careless." It urges authorities to consider cultural development to be as valuable as economic development.

    In recent years, Chinese art has shown it does have commercial value. Chinese artworks have attracted record prices at auction overseas, and are increasingly sought after internationally.

    A local official, who spoke on background, acknowledged that Caochangdi has been incorporated into his office's redevelopment plan. He says the demolition company will decide when it will start tearing down buildings and that the information will be publicly announced.

    Caochangdi resident reads artists' petition against demolition
    Caochangdi resident reads artists' petition against demolition

    Despite the threat of imminent destruction, Chinese artists banded together and went ahead with the first – and, they hope, not the last – Caochangdi PhotoSpring, a multi-gallery show that highlights photography from China and around the world. The Beijing show was organized in partnership with a 40-year-old photography festival that is held annually in the French city of Arles.

    Frenchwoman Berenice Angremy is one of the PhotoSpring organizers. She runs Thinking Hands, a Beijing organization dedicated to promoting contemporary art. In 2004, she helped organize activities that are credited with protecting another area – Beijing's 798 Art District – from the wrecking ball.

    "Beijing also has become a very international place for creation that everybody knows. And there are many art districts, many art studios, many institutions, devoted to contemporary art," Angremy says.

    Over the past decade, as China's economy has expanded, tens of thousands of people have been forced from homes and businesses when local governments have seized land for redevelopment. Farms and city neighborhoods have been replaced by golf courses, factories, high-rise apartments and shopping malls.

    Those kicked off the land often say they receive little compensation, and are forced to move far away from homes their families have occupied for generations. Commonly, there are complaints that local officials get rich off the redevelopment projects.

    The issue has become politically sensitive, as angry residents increasingly protest to stop redevelopment.

    Government officials often defend redevelopment projects by saying the new buildings provide more jobs and economic growth. They also say the old buildings are unsafe and overcrowded, and that redevelopment will improve an area's quality of life.

    Photographer Rong Rong stresses that for many artists, making a better world is not always about making money.

    He says the city is constantly expanding, and that these changes happen very quickly. In the midst of all of these rapid developments, he says, people should stop and reflect on the future. He urges everyone to consider the relationship between city growth and culture, and warns that if art communities are destroyed in pursuit of economic gain, it could damage the health of society.

    Rong Rong is no stranger to a nomadic lifestyle. When the Fujian native came to Beijing decades ago, a series of redevelopment projects forced him to leave his living quarters on more than one occasion and move around town to find affordable housing. As development continues at a brisk pace in Beijing and around China, many others are likely to find themselves on the move.

    You May Like

    US Internet Giants, EU Reach Deal to Combat Online Hate Speech

    Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft commit to ‘quickly and efficiently’ act to clamp down on use of social media to incite violence, terror

    Video Tunisia’s Ennahda Party Begins a New Political Chapter

    Party now moves to separate its political and religious activities; change described by party members as pragmatic response to political and economic challenges facing Tunisia today

    Virtual Reality Fine-tuned at Asia Tech Show

    Microchip designers hope to improve resolution for users of systems that can turn your bedroom into the ocean floor

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora