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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs