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Wang Fei, Director, Beijing Municipal Planning Commission

Culture, Beijing's Next Competitive Force




Culture, Beijing's Next Competitive Force

By Benjamin Chiang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 401 )

Beijing stands now at an historical crossroads.In 2007, per capita GDP for city residents broke US$7,000 annually, but if Beijing truly wants to be a world-class city, its cultural character and standards have a way to go.

Cultural development is an important issue for any international city. Beijing is home to China's top universities, and the new National Centre for the Performing Arts and Capital Museum are up and running, providing Beijing residents access to world-class arts and performance spaces.

But construction of tangible facilities does not necessarily denote high standards. Our next vital task is to raise the standards of the intangibles.

Beijing hopes to develop as a center of creative and cultural commerce for the world's Chinese. To that end, 21 cultural industry districts have been planned and the industrial heritage left by Shougang and other huge state enterprises is receiving protection. The key to realizing the government's hopes for nurturing the cultural industry districts is simply leaving them alone and providing peripheral services.

Preserving Hutong Culture

The demolition and dismantling of the hutongs (narrow lanes that snake through the city, lined with traditional family houses) has been a hotly debated issue for decades. The Beijing city government has employed a policy of “renovate and improve” with regard to the hutongs, and will do what's necessary to refrain from undertaking further large- scale projects affecting the hutongs within the Second Ring Road.

During the past two years, the government earmarked RMB$200 million for renovation. This year 350 hutongs will be renovated, converting 50,000 households from coal-fired to electric heat in the process, while preserving the original character of the hutongs.

However, living conditions within the hutongs can be less than ideal, with members of several different families sharing one large traditional compound. We have plans for dispersing some of the population of those hutongs that are overly densely populated because the Old City alone now houses 1.3 million people. We're aiming to reduce that to 900,000 to 1.1 million by 2020 by providing guaranteed alternative accommodation to encourage some people to move out of the hutongs. However, the character of hutong living will be preserved. After all, without people to keep the hutongs alive it just wouldn't be Beijing.

Chinese Version: 留胡同不留人,就不是北京