798 Arts District Beijing China June 2013
798 is changing, so much of it was missing from my 2012 trip that it was very sad to see what is happening to what is singlehandedly the most amazing place in China if you love modern art. In so many ways Beijing can be a crowded sterile city with small pockets of live amidst the high rise buildings. 798 defies everything you thought about china from the time you walk in the area, to the time you leave every sense from touch to taste (awesome food and drinks) to visual art to everything that surrounds you invades your mind and you will leave changed. 798 is a unique place in Beijing, there might be other places like it, but 798 is a legend.
The interesting part is what you can find there. Everything from all art forms are there. The wall art is the most special and amazing to me. It is simply world class, and would not be surprised to find a Banksy or other world class street artist working out of the spaces there. The other interesting part is that there is art there that can be found on the streets of Seattle. When you see a slap tag on a wall in 798 on a USPS priority mail label, you know that there is communication and sharing between Chinese slap taggers and American slap taggers. I almost fell over to see something like that, and would love to know more about how they communicate and how they share stuff happens. I would love to see some Chinese slap tags floating around Seattle.
It does look like the area is subcuming to the pressures of urbanization. Significant portions of 798 were abandoned this year. Pressure of high rises and other mass housing are everywhere in the area, and that has to be putting pressure on the galleries and artists that live and work there. I have no idea where they will go once 798 is gone, but I hope to find it when they do finish moving to their new digs. China faces incredible population pressures that Americans can only guess at. In a land that is 5000 years old, in a culture that has seen a little bit of everything, 798 manages to stand out as unique. It would be a shame if the area was eventually bulldozed for more high rise housing that few people can honestly afford. (One of my Chinese friends was telling me that it is 50,000 RMB per square meter of an apartment in a high rise, and you only own it for 50 years not forever. $8,000 roughly for those who want to do a quick conversion in your head).
798 deserves to live, but that is up to the Chinese government, and the artists that need to be there to help the community thrive. In all though, for as long as it exists, this is a vibrant and amazing place to go visit, you should soon, because it might not be there for very much longer.