Back home, there are few things I like more than spending a Saturday morning wandering around Manchester’s Northern Quarter looking at street art.
So, Saturday in Beijing, during the National Holiday (it goes for at least a week) with museums and other sights still being busy, I headed up to the 798 District.
Prepared with photographed and screenshot maps… remember, I’m travelling Old School here… I headed to the Northeast of the City on the Metro.
To give you a sense of the size of Beijing, 798 is over nine miles from the city centre but still well within the city limits, a couple of miles before you reach the Sixth Ring Road.
I walked out of the Metro Station and looked around for landmarks to start the 20 minute walk to the Art Zone. I wanted to be sure I was heading in the right direction.
One of the main clues took the form of teenagers dressed like the cast of Friends… or maybe Clueless.
Yes, kids, the ’90s are back.
They had to be heading for the 798.
My suspicions were correct. They pointed me in the right direction before stylishly picking up some rental bikes and leisurely cycling there.
The 798 Art Zone is a complex of 50-year-old decommissioned military factory buildings. The 798 Factory is only one of the buildings there.
The Bauhaus-style socialist factory compound was built with the assistance of the Soviet Union and the DDR.
Construction was marked by disagreements between the Chinese, Soviet and German experts, which led at one point to a six-month postponement of the project.
The disputes generally revolved around the Germans’ high but expensive quality standards for buildings and machines, which were called “over-engineering” by the Russians.
At the height of the construction effort, more than 100 East German foreign experts worked on the project.
The equipment was transported directly through the Soviet Union via the Trans Siberian railway, and a 15 km track of railroad between Beijing Railway Station and Dongjiao Station was built especially to service the factory.
The factory complex began to close down in the 1980s though today there are car manufacturers based there among g the art galleries.
Between 1985 and the early 2000s artists began moving into the area. Exhibitions were held and the Zone is now one of the most famous artistic areas in China, holding regular festivals.
The area is a mixture of galleries, restaurants cafes and shops, with a range of street art on walls and in the streets.
I hadn’t seen any street art in Beijing – it all seems to be here.
*Featured Photo: Hyundai commissioned sticker/adhesive artwork – a map of the 798.
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