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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs