Year 2005. “Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.” Albert Schweitzer
During that year (2005) I stayed a few months in Beijing and, as usual, I spent my only day off, the Sundays, to stroll in town and get to know new corners. But I was tired to see glass, concrete, aluminium and plastic, buildings with greek and roman columns, or buildings rubbed with tasteless modern tiles. Coincidently with my thoughts, while sipping my coffee during breakfast, it called my attention an article on China Daily newspaper – the only newspaper published in english (with twelve pages at that time) and though seemed liberal at first it was actually very much controlled by the government, which means censured. Let’s say that they tolerated some extra information… – where the new generation of architects were reacting to the greediness by the what it seemed out of control demolition of old buildings and neighbourhoods to pave the way to brand new westernised buildings. They were reacting to the lost of Chinese characterisation in the new plans and buildings. They were sending an alert to the authorities that soon it could be to late. Beijing, they were saying, could be another Shanghai. The regrets would not bring anything back and that Beijing would have to build Theme Parks later to show to the young generations how Beijing would look like if… “Let’s not loose this opportunity!” they seemed to scream. The Hutongs, even if there are intentions to preserve some, can also end up very much uncharacterised if no intervention was made by specialists in building restoration and preservation. This too, they said, can be to late even if apparently the cosmetic seemed rightly made.
In 2004, because I was living in Yabao area during one and half year, I saw with my own eyes a destruction of one important and beautiful Hutong (I concluded from the few corners I could photograph) located between the Ritan Park and an important Taoist Temple that was partially saved during the Cultural Revolution because a tremendous coincidence. I will come back to this particular temple in another post.
This photo is an example of the beauty of an Hutong. Because I was living just in front during the demolition I could sneak-in a few times and take some photos from some leftover between demolition breaks. When I took this photo this wall saw an example of a resilient nature trying to resist but it was in vain, it was to late…
…in 2007 I returned there again and I had some difficulty to recognise the place. Some small streets I used to walk were now transformed in wide streets and avenues. Today, the same place where the Hutong used to stand, is a huge and massive shopping mall which buildings are wrapped in marble. Most of shops are selling furs which is a business dominated by Mongolians and Russians and the surroundings are packed with newly built condominiums. The area is now transformed in a copy of a tasteless western-style Hi-So place for the new medium class and self-made newly rich.