Looking for the past

Before I left Los Angeles for China, acquaintances who are interested in the country’s history told me, “You’d better go soon; China’s history has almost disappeared.”

The rush to modernization has virtually wiped out Chengdu’s architectural past. There are historic sites that remain, but many of them look slick and tourist-y (or are re-creations), and are preserved as part of “designated tourist” areas of the city.

Amid the sterile, “modern,” corporate monoliths that now dominate central Chengdu, I’m occasionally thrilled to discover small pockets of the past. These are few and far between, having been demolished or left to crumble on their own.

From what I have read (in English) in articles like the one below, there ARE some local movements in Chinese cities which try to stem the tide of destruction. The Hutongs referred to are clusters of traditional residential buildings arranged around narrow lanes, most notably in Beijing. Similar residential areas existed in cities like Chengdu as well.

This excerpt is from the website ANTIWAR.COM , a coalition of English-speaking expatriates living in China. It’s from a group of articles on The 50-Year Communist Assault on 5000 Years of Chinese Culture. Here’s the link: http://antiwar.com/matuszak/?articleid=2059

Kill All the Hutongs

The demise of Beijing’s hutongs has been slow and painful, with forced relocations laced with greed driving the process. The Seaboard cities have exported their lust for mega-plexes to the western cities, with huge real estate conglomerates WanDa and YiDa from Dalian leading the way. WanDa specializes in huge department store buildings and housing complexes – they just signed a huge contract with Warner Bros. to introduce massive cinemas to Chinese audiences.

…But Old Chengdu is virtually dead. The last remnants of what once a cultural capital are locked in a battle for their lives with the local government, who is more interested in a candy-coated refurbishing of the area than in the 1000 years of culture and history the neighborhood represents. And while the old city is under siege and rampant construction and development turns the city’s waterways into cesspools, the Chengdu Government wanders around in dreamland.

The old parts of any large city in China are going or gone. Hong Kong’s super-modern skyline draws visitors away from the islands and New Territories were the modern and the ancient co-exist and Han culture is visible.If one were to take photos of the skylines of Shenzhen, Taiyuan, and Chengdu, there would be no discernible difference. And there would be no old city to offset the sterility.


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