By Sasha Padbidri
Beijing has given a whole new meaning to the word “heritage” – just recently, the government pledged to build replicas of some former city wall gates, which were all demolished in the 1950s. This situation is eerily similar to that of the Qianmen district, which Chinese property developer SOHO demolished substantial sections of in 2006, and then rebuilt as a bougie cultural quarter, much to the outrage of local Beijingers.
The Qianmen district was one of the most well-preserved hutongs in Beijing, having been around since the Ming Dynasty. With more projects in the pipeline, these historical sites are in danger of “qianmenization”, which is what the people have used to term these “heritage” copies.
He Shuzhong, founder of Beijing’s Centre for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, criticized the government’s plans, calling it “an ignorant, stupid and greedy practice”. He also added, “[the government is] ignorant because they do not know the meaning of cultural heritage; stupid, because they do not understand the old city’s crucial role for society, and greedy because corruption permeates every step of the reconstruction”.
Unfortunately, the government refuses to back down from their ambitious plans, with local officials citing that these old buildings and sites “were unsafe” and an “eyesore”. The real eyesores, however, are the foreign brand logos that hang from the windows of the tacky new Qianmen buildings. If this is what the government hopes to pass off as their “heritage”, we would be better off looking at postcards instead.