Much-needed makeover for Shenyang

Decades of in­dus­trial life­style gets checked by new-age art as cul­ture firms sprout

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By LIU CE andWUYONG in Shenyang

Xu Bili is busy ne­go­ti­at­ing with a French cu­ra­tor to in­tro­duce a new art ex­hi­bi­tion to Shenyang, cap­i­tal of Liaon­ing province.

“I want to in­tro­duce more in­ter­na­tional arts and a mod­ern life­style to Shenyang, to make the city stand out from oth­ers and be full of fun,” she said.

The Chi­nese-Bel­gian, 30, to­gether with her hus­band and a part­ner, founded 1905 Re-cre­ative Space in 2011 in Shenyang.

It is a com­mer­cial prop­erty that houses cre­ative work­shops, bars, cafes and such es­tab­lish­ments along­side art ex­hi­bi­tions.

The space is retro­fit­ted from a 79-year-old plant, which is pre­served as a relic of, and a trib­ute to, the city’s glo­ri­ous in­dus­trial his­tory.

Known as the “Ori­en­tal Ruhr”, Shenyang has been the man­u­fac­tur­ing base of China since 1930s. Here, there is never a short­age of “hard” signs such as huge fac­to­ries. The city, how­ever, lacks the “soft” touch of art ex­hi­bi­tions.

“The city is bor­ing for young­sters. And I can hardly find a stylish café af­ter 10 pm in the down­town,” Xu said.

“There is a cul­tural ‘gap’ in Shenyang. The old in­dus­trial civ­i­liza­tion does not sit side by side with moder­nity. That’s why, I want to build a plat­form com­bin­ing in­dus­trial cul­ture, mod­ern cul­ture and arts.”

How­ever, it’s not easy to find a clear for-profit model. Xu’s chal­lenge is to make a clear break with the local cul­ture as rep­re­sented by Er­ren­zhuan (a song-and-dance duet per­for­mance pop­u­lar in North­east China), and en­cour­age local con­sumers to de­velop a new mind­set.

For­tu­nately, she found a gold mine in the Sin­gle Lady Mar­ket site af­ter nu­mer­ous at­tempts. “The post-’80s and post-’90s women like lit­er­a­ture and arts; they are our most ac­tive cus­tomers,” she said.

Over the years, Xu-led 1905 has de­vel­oped open classes and work­shops on var­i­ous top­ics, rang­ing from paint­ing to cook­ing.

The cou­ple launched “We Are Here”, an in­ter­na­tional young artist ex­change project, in 2013. In the past three years, 18 Euro­pean artist­shad­vis­ited the 1905 space and created works to­gether with local young artists.

At 2015-end, their ven­ture’s an­nual in­come dou­bled from the level at the end of the first year of oper­a­tions. Eighty per­cent of the profit came from the post-’80s and post-’90s sin­gle women.

“The 1905 space has be­come an icon for local arts. It can meet al­most all of my needs like learn­ing new things, art ap­pre­ci­a­tion and bars. If you don’t know 1905, you are out (of fash­ion),” said Zang Wei­wei, 25, a local sin­gle work­ing woman.

Shao Jian­bing, a pro­fes­sor at Liaon­ing Univer­sity, said, “It ap­pears sin­gle Chi­nese work­ing women, es­pe­cially in big cities, in­creas­ingly pre­fer to in­vest in them­selves rather than in mar­riage. Also, con­sump­tion pat­terns of the younger gen­er­a­tion have changed. They are more will­ing to pay for cul­tural and leisure things.”

Shao’s view is a throw­back to economist F.T. McCarthy’s 2001 the­ory of “The Brid­get Jones Econ­omy” (or the sin­gle women econ­omy), pub­lished first in The Economist mag­a­zine. Ac­cord­ing to him, sin­gle work­ing­wom­enare more likely to in­dulge in im­pulse buy­ing. Data shows that sin­gle women’s spend­ing on food and fash­ion is 2.7 times that of mar­ried women in the same age-group.

Xu said, “I hope to cre­ate a fash­ion life­style for them (sin­gle work­ing women). Nearly all of my em­ploy­ees are post-’80s women who can re­late well to young­sters and en­cour­age them to de­velop local cul­tural and cre­ative in­dus­tries.”

Con­tact the writer at li­uce@chi­


Two young per­form­ers en­act Er­ren­zhuan, or Beng­beng, a duet com­pris­ing song and dance, in Shenyang, China’s fa­mous man­u­fac­tur­ing base. For long home to age-old tra­di­tional life­style, it is seek­ing to rein­vent it­self by em­brac­ing mod­ern art forms.


Con­sumers throng a flower and sapling art cor­ner at the 1905 Re-cre­ative Space in Shenyang. Zang Wei­wei, 25, a local sin­gle work­ing woman

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