CUL­TURAL VENUES IN HU­TONG

Beijing (English) - - STORIES OF BEIJING - Trans­lated by Yu Chunbo Edited by Justin Davis

Dongcheng Dis­trict is an im­por­tant part of Bei­jing's core area. It fea­tures nu­mer­ous his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural streets and relics. One can learn more about the pro­found cul­ture of the city when vis­it­ing the dis­trict. Do­ing so is like un­fold­ing a huge, painted scroll de­pict­ing the past.

Bei­jing has been re­mov­ing func­tions that are nonessen­tial to its role as the cap­i­tal of China as part of op­ti­mis­ing and up­grad­ing. Dongcheng has been es­tab­lish­ing cul­tural venues in sites that have be­come avail­able as a re­sult of this process. The venues are scat­tered in tran­quil hu­tong (al­leys), vi­brant com­mer­cial ar­eas and base­ment sites. They all have a strong cul­tural at­mos­phere and now hold ex­hi­bi­tions and other events.

Telling His­tor­i­cal Sto­ries

The Dongsi Hu­tong Mu­seum is lo­cated at 77 Si­tiao, Dongsi Sub-dis­trict. The build­ing was once a sub-dis­trict po­lice of­fice. It now dis­plays his­tor­i­cal arte­facts.

Cov­er­ing an area of 1,023 square me­tres (sq.m), the mu­seum is typ­i­cal of si­heyuan (tra­di­tional court­yard res­i­dences) com­posed of three court­yards. Vis­i­tors can learn about the ar­chi­tec­tural style of Bei­jing's tra­di­tional, lo­cal res­i­dences, which are havens of tran­quil­lity in the vi­brant, mod­ern city.

The mu­seum fea­tures five sec­tions: Dongsi Im­pres­sion, Roof Tile Houses in Mem­ory, Cul­tural Vis­its, Cul­tural Ex­changes and Cul­tural Relics Dis­play. The Dongsi Im­pres­sion sec­tion con­tains pho­tos that por­tray the history of hu­tong in the Dongsi area, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion about the orig­i­na­tion of their names and their de­vel­op­ment dur­ing the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dy­nas­ties, the Repub­lic of China pe­riod (1911–1949) and the mod­ern pe­riod after the found­ing of the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China. The Roof Tile Houses in Mem­ory sec­tion comes next. It fea­tures in­for­ma­tion about roof tiles, which are an essen­tial el­e­ment of si­heyuan, and aims to arouse peo­ple's en­thu­si­asm for pro­tect­ing tra­di­tional cul­ture by com­bin­ing old roof tiles with mod­ern art­work. After this, the Cul­tural Vis­its sec­tion can be found. Vis­i­tors can ex­pe­ri­ence old Bei­jing by lis­ten­ing on head­sets to ped­dlers hawk­ing goods and view­ing his­tor­i­cal pho­tos. The Cul­tural Relics Dis­play is next. It fea­tures ar­chi­tec­tural com­po­nents from Fu Kang'an man­sion (1754–1796, a gen­eral from the Qing Dy­nasty) and old bricks from Bei­jing's city wall dat­ing back to the 22nd year of the reign of Em­peror Ji­aqing (1795–1820). In the Cul­tural Ex­changes sec­tion, LED dis­plays show videos about the cul­ture and history of hu­tong in the Dongsi area.

The mu­seum of­fers vis­i­tors an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence the olden days of Bei­jing. El­derly Bei­jingers helped with the cre­ation of the mu­seum. They have many valu­able mem­o­ries and arte­facts, which have been use­ful. Seventy-three-year-old Yang Shim­ing lives in the area and helped with the project. He sent rice-re­lated arte­facts to the mu­seum. They are about 100 years old and are from imperial gra­naries from the past, where Yang's an­ces­tors worked dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty.

The Dongsi Hu­tong Mu­seum rep­re­sents the liv­ing mu­seum area from San­tiao to Ba­tiao streets in Dongsi. This area was in­cluded in the first na­tional-level his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural street se­lec­tion in 2015 and

has wit­nessed Bei­jing's de­vel­op­ment and cul­tural evo­lu­tion.

Over 13,000 vis­its to the mu­seum have been made since it opened to the pub­lic in mid-novem­ber 2018. Vol­un­teers at the mu­seum help peo­ple learn more about Dongsi and old Bei­jing. Xu Shuhui is a 61-year-old vol­un­teer who lives in Nan­men­cang Com­mu­nity, Dongsi SubDistrict. She grew up on a hu­tong in Dongsi and is fa­mil­iar with sto­ries and mon­u­ments in the area. She can ex­plain in­for­ma­tion about tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­tural com­po­nents in the hu­tong and give de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about the history of the al­leys.

Im­prov­ing Fa­cil­i­ties for Read­ers

In the past, 88 Jing­tai Lu (Road) was filled with squat­ter set­tle­ments and il­le­gal build­ings and was con­sid­ered a messy area. It has now be­come a cul­tural zone with sa­lons, ex­hi­bi­tion venues and stu­dios after two months of ren­o­va­tion,. The over 70-sq.m site fea­tures smooth grey walls and French doors and win­dows. It was also given a new name— Gengdu Kongjian (“study­ing and read­ing space”). Res­i­dents in the area have de­scribed it as a haven of tran­quil­lity for read­ers.

The mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment is­sued a doc­u­ment on July 17, 2018 in­di­cat­ing that Yongding­men­wai Sub-dis­trict de­cided to cre­ate Gengdu Kongjian as a tra­di­tional cul­ture book­shop with a special fo­cus on el­derly peo­ple and chil­dren. It was meant to be­come a pub­lic plat­form to help read­ers learn about Bei­jing's tra­di­tional cul­ture and an­cient Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­tural cul­ture. It also fea­tures cul­tural and cre­ative prod­ucts.

The book­shop con­tains more than 3,000 books, in­clud­ing clas­sics, il­lus­trated books for chil­dren, poetry col­lec­tions, nov­els and es­says. There are mats on the first floor, which make it com­fort­able to sit down. Sa­lons and var­i­ous cour­ses are avail­able to peo­ple of var­i­ous age groups as long as they reg­is­ter in ad­vance and pay for ma­te­ri­als. Chil­dren en­joy go­ing to the facility on sum­mer va­ca­tion. Wang Yuebo is a fa­mous sto­ry­telling per­former and was the first lec­turer at the facility, lead­ing a class for chil­dren about Bei­jing's folk cus­toms and cul­ture.

Pass­ing on In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage

Peo­ple of­ten con­sider un­der­ground spa­ces to be sti­fling, claus­tro­pho­bic and even dan­ger­ous. If an un­der­ground space holds more than 100 res­i­dents, it is even more likely to be haz­ardous.

The Dushi Xinyuan Com­mu­nity in the Chong­wen­men­wai area used to in­clude a site for­merly used as a civil air de­fence facility that was di­vided into small, un­der­ground rooms that were avail­able for rent. Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal res­i­dents, the 200 sq.m space once ac­com­mo­dated over 150 res­i­dents. In 2015, the Chong­wen­men­wai Sub-dis­trict Of­fice va­cated the space. It was ren­o­vated and over­hauled. The 200-sq.m area be­came an in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage mu­seum, and about 600 sq.m of ad­di­tional space has been turned into a cul­tural and sports venue.

The cul­tural and sports venue fea­tures a ta­ble tennis room, a read­ing room, a bil­liard room and a mu­sic stu­dio. Other rooms are un­der con­struc­tion as well. The venue will ul­ti­mately be a cen­tre for fit­ness, en­ter­tain­ment and leisure, serv­ing lo­cal res­i­dents.

The in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage mu­seum is cur­rently open to the pub­lic. It fea­tures nine ex­hi­bi­tion sec­tions show­cas­ing sub­jects like cul­ture and history, kites, di­a­bo­los, Bei­jing- style em­broi­dery and more. There is also an in­ter­ac­tive area that fo­cuses on in­tro­duc­ing and pro­mot­ing 14 heirs of in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage and their works. She Zeng­tai and Zhang Shide are dis­trict-level heirs of cook­ing ha­lal food and mak­ing Bei­jing-style kites, re­spec­tively. They live in the Dushi Xinyuan Com­mu­nity. They cur­rently of­fer cour­ses and demon­strate their crafts at the mu­seum. The sub-dis­trict of­fice or­gan­ises hands-on, in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage events oc­ca­sion­ally as well. A lantern fair was held at the mu­seum dur­ing the 2018 Lantern Fes­ti­val (the fif­teenth day of the first lu­nar month of the year). Over 180 lanterns shaped like wa­ter­mel­ons, pump­kins, fishes, pea­cocks and so on lit up the site. The mu­seum serves res­i­dents in the area with its folk­lore ex­hi­bi­tions, pro­vides pleas­ant fes­tiv­i­ties and en­hances peo­ple's ex­pec­ta­tions for hav­ing a good year.

Ac­cord­ing to Sec­re­tary of Dushi Xinyuan Com­mu­nity Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party of China Liu Yan, who also serves as the com­mu­nity's direc­tor, lo­cal res­i­dents are look­ing for­ward to more va­cated ar­eas be­ing used as pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties such as green­gro­ceries, fa­cil­i­ties to care for the el­derly and chil­dren's cen­tres. The com­mu­nity of­fice will re­port res­i­dents' sug­ges­tions to su­pe­rior au­thor­i­ties. It is es­ti­mated that plan­ning re­lated to the va­cated ar­eas will be com­pleted by 2020.

An ex­hi­bi­tion space at the Dongsi Hu­tong Mu­seum

Geng­dukongjian (“study­ing and read­ing space”) in Yongding­men­wai Sub-dis­trict

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