1. March 2010. Only in a city as wondrously contradictory and confusing as Beijing could a place like 798 Art District exist! Formerly a huge network of factories built by the East Germans in the 1950s, by the mid 1990s the entire area had fallen into a state of abandoned disrepair. It was around this time that The Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts setup shop here to take advantage of the cheap rent and vast working space. Soon after independent artists began trickling in and the community grew and grew…
2. March 2010. Today 798 proudly stands as Beijing’s premier concentration of contemporary art galleries, installations and exhibitions. Covering a whopping 148 acres of land, you could easily spend a day here checking out painter’s studios, art cafes, open-air sculptures, craft shops, second hand record stores, graffiti walls, statues and more. In recent years the complex has experienced a frenzy of gentrification, with several fancy restaurants offering top-notch international cuisine.
3. March 2010. Despite having one foot firmly in the contemporary art scene, 798 remains unashamedly proud of its communist roots! So keep your eyes open for scattered images of Chairman Mao along with red Maoist slogans in workshop interiors and on the sides of buildings. You’ll also find statues of burly, square-jawed labourers and soldiers like these.
4. July 2014. This interactive graffiti chamber is well worth a wander! A lot of people seemed to rush through with little more than a cursory glance, but the longer you stay the more fantastic little details you’ll catch! There’s even an interactive corner where you can contribute and add your own little piece of 798 history.
5. July 2014. Don’t miss out on the somewhat gruesome sight of the former 718 Joint Factory! Known in its heyday for being the best military equipment factory in the country, at the height of its powers it employed over twenty thousand people and offered great social benefits at a time of intense widespread poverty. Today you can walk in and around its skeletal remains and marvel at its simultaneous ugliness and beauty.
For more on my time in the Chinese capital, check out my other 5s on Beijing.
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