New life infused into Beijing's past

By XIN WEN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-07-10 07:18
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A visitor poses in an alleyway at the Tai'an Li center. WANG JING/CHINA DAILY

Surprise closure

In 1928, the building closed unexpectedly when the capital was moved to Nanjing, Jiangsu province, and Xiangchang New District gradually went into decline.

The dilapidated New World building was eventually demolished in 1986, but nearby Tai'an Li, where Zhu, minister of the interior, and other developers oversaw shikumen construction, remained standing.

After the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, most of the buildings became State-owned, and the six at Tai'an Li were no exception, with each one assigned to 10 to 15 households.

Chen Shiguo moved to his apartment across the street from Tai'an Li in 1973. He remembers taking his 3-year-old daughter with him when he went to buy beer from a street vendor, and the girl sat at a small table at a food stall.

"The area comprised sprawling tenements with makeshift structures. The cramped alleyways were chaotic, and the numerous tables underneath awnings only added to the congestion," Chen said.

In winter, residents in the compound faced hard times, as water leaked around the buildings, and pipes froze and burst.

Residents relocated

To preserve cultural heritage in Xicheng and improve residents' living conditions, the district government started to relocate people living in the Tai'an Li compound in 2009, completing this work in 2018.

Two years later, the local authorities launched a project to rejuvenate cultural resources and protect cultural relics.

Jin Zhen, director of Xicheng District Culture and Tourism Bureau, said that in 2020, Tai'an Li was chosen as one of the first six cultural relic buildings in Beijing for the adaptive reuse of architecture.

"We placed a key emphasis on matching the historical background and cultural meaning of the site with its function in the neighborhood. We also aimed to fill the gap in public cultural services in the area to attract more young people to take part in the revitalization of cultural relics," Jin said.

"Our target was for Tai'an Li to serve as a platform for cultural communication and artistic display, in line with the overall function of the Tianqiao performing arts community (where Tai'an Li is located)."

The project's priority was to maintain the character of the compound's six shikumen buildings.

After residents moved out, the buildings were given a facelift. Restoration work began in 2019 on the 3,120-square-meter area to reproduce its former appearance. Two years later, the compound became a major historical and cultural site protected at municipal level.

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