The Father of Modern Chinese Architecture and Beijing’s Demolition Legacy
"Meishi Street" (dir. Ou Ning)
The demolition of hutong neighborhoods in Beijing to make way for modern high-rises and other spoils of “development” has been well documented for years. Ou Ning‘s documentary Meishi Street, which traces a group of Beijingers’ attempt to resist the the onslaught of urban reconfiguring anticipating the 2008 Olympics, is prominent in the canon of documentation of these historic communities reduced to rubble.
Recently, new demolition stories have emerged in Beijing with regard to the home of famed Chinese architect Liang Sicheng, “horrifying heritage experts” and locals alike. Tania Branigan has the story in The Guardian:
Their appreciation of China‘s ancient buildings and their devotion to preserving its heritage made them two of the country’s most revered architects. But now the home in Beijing where Liang Sicheng and his wife Lin Huiyin once worked lies in rubble – having fallen prey to the development they feared would destroy their city’s ancient streets. The demolition has horrified heritage experts. Liang is known as the father of modern Chinese architecture, and much of his and Lin’s most important work was carried out while they were living in the courtyard house in Beizongbu Hutong in the 1930s. It was knocked down by developers over the lunar New Year, despite the fact it is rare for labourers to work during the festival, raising suspicions that the company hoped to avoid publicity.
The tragic irony of this particular demolition presents a striking example of just how ruthless this culture of demolition has become in Beijing. In an article for The Atlantic, Jonathan Kaiman reflects on the historical precedents for demolition in Beijing, as well as Liang Sicheng’s own role in this legacy:
“Once a mistake is made,” Liang once wrote, “it may take a hundred years to correct it, during which residents will have to endure endless sufferings.” In other words, Mao’s party put politics before urban planning, and now some residents are paying for it with their homes.