Monday, October 31, 2016

Yanjiao as a new destination for Chinese artists?

Just read this article in the New York Times today by Emily Feng about how more and more artists are setting up shop in Yanjiao, Hebei Province. In response, I write the following comments for the Modern Chinese Literature and Culture blog, and I'd like to circulate it around and see what kind of feedback I can get!

Yanjiao, in Hebei province, just across the Chaobai river from the eastern border of Beijing municipality, is a special place for me. I have a place in what Feng calls “North Side of Hawaii” (apparently she hasn’t been to Hawaii; I prefer to call 北岸 North Shore). The actual population of Yanjiao should be closer to one million; I believe it was 300,000 about 8-10 years ago after they started selling apartments in the rash of gigantic new developments built especially along Yanshun lu, which is where the CAFA satellite campus and the various Shores of Hawaii are (there’s also an Oriental Hawaii).

I am very interested in this trend, and it makes sense, especially given the clever tactic of buying (renting?) a bare concrete apartment (maopifang) and using it as a studio. But the article greatly underemphasizes the importance and scale of the Songzhuang art district. Songzhuang has really created a cultural community, including galleries, museums, and some really good restaurants. It struggles and it ebbs and flows, but it really feels permeated with art. 798 is “quickly gentrifying”? Didn’t that happen 12 years ago? Compared to Songzhuang, Yanjiao feels more like an oversized north Chinese village that has become a gateway bedroom community to Beijing for hundreds of thousands of outsiders, particularly from the northeast. They are the ones who have created the atmosphere in Yanjiao, which I find very interesting, but it doesn’t have much of a cultural element at all.

What’s more, if the apartments felt cheap over the last 8-10 years, they won’t for very long, especially if it’s set up in contrast to Songzhuang: the Beijing municipal government is moving to Tongzhou (about half way to Yanjiao from Chaoyang district), so Yanjiao is going to become a major conduit for transportation along the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei corridor. There will be a Yanjiao subway stop (probably the 1 train extension, but maybe the 6 train which already has stops in Tongzhou), a light rail station for a new line going to Tangshan, and they are building a major new bridge across the Chaobai river (dividing Beijing municipality from Hebei province at Yanjiao) that appears to link closely to Songzhuang. All of this is already beginning to push the prices for Yanjiao housing up, and once those new stations begin construction, it may push them up faster and higher.

But if hundreds of artists have already settled in Yanjiao, I’m delighted to know it. Hopefully it won’t be long before we see galleries and a couple of decent bookstores there, because there certainly aren’t now.

Charles A. Laughlin <>
University of Virginia
by on October 31, 2016