Beijing 798 Art District (a.k.a. Dashanzi Art District), located in the Chaoyang area in the north east of the city, is a modern hub of contemporary art, photography, culture, urban lifestyle and architecture. Nicknamed the ‘world platform for art lovers and smart people’, it connects the Eastern and Western art communities. Becoming the more are more popular spot in Beijing, it is visited by many Chinese and foreign tourists and art enthusiasts. Check China Travel if you’re travelling in the capital and make sure you include this site in your Beijing Tours itinerary!

798 Art District is not only an extensive art complex, but also a home and workplace for many local artists. Out of the total of 100,000 sq m, around half still constitutes of operating workshops of the former factory.  The Joint Factory 718, producing military electronics, was set up in the 1950s by East German government as an expression of harmonious collaboration between the communist countries at the time. The production ceased during the reform period of 1980s and 1990s and the complex of streets, lanes, warehouses, factory buildings and offices remained unused till 2002. Today, it integrates around 50 galleries (including the central 798 Art Space); bookshops, bars and restaurants. If you want to fully explore 798, plan to spend at least a few hours to one whole day there.

The galleries display the exhibitions of both established and emerging Chinese contemporary artists. The most prominent names over the years of 798’s existence include Ai Wei Wei, Zhang Xiaogang, Cai Guoqiang and Xu Yong. Apart from that, many foreign artists from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, USA, Australia, France and Belgium have presented their works there.

 

Time magazine named the 798 Art District as one of 22 urban centres with significant cultural meaning. The local authorities’ plan for this art space is to promote the modern side of Beijing, which is known mainly for its historical sites – the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and others. Nevertheless, the 798 will be interesting also for those fascinated by Chinese history, as many of the buildings preserve the paintings, sculptures and slogans from the Maoist period.

As contemporary art is often considered controversial, the 798 Art District faces many problems with development. Moreover, it has been under serious financial pressure for a long time – along with the expansion and modernisation of the city, the rents have been increasing rapidly. In 2004-5 it was close to be sold and turned into a residential area. Therefore, though initially associated with independent underground art, nowadays it gets more and more commercial – it hosts a few international brands, i.e. Sony, and fashion shows.

In the recent times, Beijing has become a thriving art scene. Apart from the 798 Art District, there are many art galleries and museums around the city, i.e. the Capital Museum, Red Gate Gallery and Pékin Fine Arts, to name a few. Stay at one of the Beijing Hotels and immerse yourself in this unusual world of art!

 

Jack Li
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