Final Stop on the Great Brickening Shows Beijing Hutongs Have Become Sterile, Tepid Alleys

Last year, many of us were dismayed to witness a brutal urban rejuvenation campaign that dismantled many of our favorite Beijing hutong F&B establishments. Dubbed the "Great Brickening," the city-wide campaign took few prisoners as it rendered some place unrecognizable and shut others down.

At the time, the Beijinger posted a jarring before-and-after photo comparison, but because the enforced makeover was made to be compliant instead of aethetically pleasing, it may not have been a proper portrayal of how Beijing ideally wanted to look like.

READ: Beijing Hutong Culture Reaches Crisis Point as Fangjia Hutong Becomes Care Home

Now, almost a year later, a Beijing newspaper has proclaimed the city's urban rejuvenation campaign to be a success by posting its own before-and-after hutong photo comparison. And although its tone is celebratory and exuberant, hutong-nostalgic expats probably aren't as likely to share the feeling.

Underneath the headline "Old Beijing resident hutongs have returned," the Beijing Daily displayed through a series of photos that the new government-standard renovated hutongs have been duly stripped of their personality.

Mainly focusing upon the changes made to Beijing's Jingshan hutong neighborhood, the photo comparisons show the renovations to have eradicated commercial interests and personal flourishes from each example, reverting the hutong to a basic, non-descript wall.

But where expats and overseas tourists have enjoyed Beijing hutongs for their personality and charm, the report claims that the changes are best for everyone.

"Before, this hutong was very chaotic with souvenir sellers on both sides of the street and tourists passing through on three-wheeled bikes," elderly Jingshan hutong resident Zhang Junbo told the Beijing Daily. "It was so busy and frantic, it wasn't at all suitable for living in."

READ: Modernista Turns 6, Standing Tall as a "Great Brickening Survivor" With Gigs Aplenty Nov 10-12 and Nov 24-26

Now that the city had implemented its urban renewal campaign, things are much different for Zhang. "The hutong has been reverted to its clean and original state, just like how it was in my childhood memories. As well, tourists can now finally see the real Beijing."

Deputy director of the Jingshan local affairs unit Tian Guoming feels the same way. "By renovating the hutongs, we can strengthen local residents' sense of belonging as well as properly tell the story of Jingshan."  

In response to the story, some netizens have taken a contrary view.

READ: Can't Keep Me Down: The Tenacious Beijing Venues That Survived and Reopened After the Brickening

Describing it as "really ugly," one comment complained that "They tore down the real city wall and put up a fake one."

Others complained about the new hutong's sterile nature by writing comments like: "It looks cold and half-hearted," "There's no vitality," and "This is the 'authentic' old Beijing? As a native resident, I don't believe so!"

Another comment complained that authorities seem not to favor their own decisions. "Before they wanted to develop the local economy, but then the local culture died out as the economy improved," said one person. "Now they want to develop their culture again!"

READ: Cleaning Up Nice: City Bookstore Opens on Sanlitun's Formerly 'Dirty' Bar Street

Beijing's current urban renewal campaign focuses heavily upon culture and history by creating neo-classic versions of traditional architecture as well as building a plethora of book stores

Last September, a new tourist center that opened near the famous Silk Streets loudly proclaimed itself to be Beijing's "one stop" destination for tourists. Now that Beijing's hutongs all share the same lukewarm, homogeneous appearance, it really does seem as though tourists visiting Beijing won't have any reason to go anywhere else. 

More stories from this author here.

E-Mail: charlesliu1 (at) qq (dot) com
Twitter: @Sinopath

Images: Baijiaodao, Sohu, People's Daily