Qianmen, again

September 30th, 2008

Qianmen’s been in the news alot, lately. Well, firstly because of that big renovation project- a project that still has large empty sections left to fill in on either side of Qianmen Dajie proper. Then of course Qianmen Dajie itself was reopened to tourists on August 7, just in time for the Olympics. And with National Day security and safety measures and the expected influx of tourists for the holidays (150,000 on Day 1, apparently- it’s busiest day since the end of the Olympics, with 80% of the visitors coming from out of town), it’s back….

First up isn’t exactly news, beginning as it does in the 18th year of Kangxi’s reign, but it is a reminder: Qianmen Dajie has been renovated five times throughout it’s history.


5 big renovations to build the new Qianmen

Now, a headline like that, you’d be expecting an article detailing the five separate projects to successively build the new Qianmen, but no, as I said, it’s been rebuilt five times in its history:

■ 秘史

■ Inside story


Qianmen Dajie was built in 1436, and in total five has had five major renovations in its history.


The first was in the 18th year of Kangxi’s reign, AD 1679, because an earthquake had collapsed and destroyed many buildings in the capital.


The second was in 1900, when Qianmen Dajie was repaired after having been burned down during the Eight Power Allied Army’s invasion of Beijing.


The third was in the 1920s, which was the time when the Qianmen Dajie in people’s imagination began to be built.


The fourth was in the 1970s, when Quanjude Roast Duck and other famous stores were built.


The fifth is the current round of renovation beginning in May last year, seeing tourists again from August 7 this year, built mainly in the style of the 1920s and 1930s. Qianmen Dajie is 846 metres long and a tram line is installed in the centre of the road.

Well, I saw the trams there when I cruised past last time, but they were sitting lifeless like museum pieces at the northern end of the street. Hopefully once the holiday crowds thin out, they’ll get the trams up and running. But here’s one thing that leapt out at me: The pace of renovation has picked up dramatically over the last 100 years. 1437 – 1679; 1679 – 1900; and then suddenly it’s regular renovations. And I’m guessing that the 1679 and 1900 rounds were pure disaster relief/reconstruction, and the 1920s and 1970s rounds were more rejuvenations, as in updating the street to match modern times. I’d be surprised if in any of those rounds of renovations the decision was made to rebuild some kind of Golden Age (well, the 1679 and 1900 rounds were obviously about restoring the street to its pre-earthquake/invasion state, but that’s hardly a leap back to a bygone era).

The second article looks at a problem that has emerged with the completion of the first phase of renovation and it’s potential solution in the next phase: Parking, for both bicycles and cars, or the lack thereof. This one comes with a bunch of photos of happy tourists and at least one local old-timer who makes approving noises about the renovations, but as nice as the photos are, they’re irrelevant, I feel, so I’m going to ignore them:


Carparks hopefully will be installed in project’s second phase


Some citizens have suggested that car- and bicycle parking is not convenient near the new Qianmen

[Silly rant: Screw the cars! Install huge bicycle parks and gigantic bus stops and make the drivers park far, far away! Ahem. Now, back to that article]


Yesterday, some tourists reported that their biggest headache in cycling or driving to Qianmen is that there are no car- or bicycle parks. The person in charge in the Qianmen Dajie security headquarters said this problem should hopefully be resolved in the second phase of the project.


A Beijing citizen with a child said that this time they drove to Qianmen, and parked their car in an empty space several hundred metres from Qianmen Dajie, and the parking space was very small, very inconvenient.


Another person who cycled was worried that bicycles would be stolen if left in a hutong, and those riding good bikes would be especially worried about this. He felt that while strolling, he was always thinking about his bike outside.


To this, the person in charge at the Qianmen Dajie security headquarters Officer Sun Guojin said these problems are currently being resolved, and when the second phase of the Qianmen Dajie project is completed carparks and regular bicycle parks will be built. The second phase of the Qianmen Dajie project is now being proved, and there might be a Siheyuan-style star-rated hotel built.

Two things:

  1. What the hell does that hotel have to do with the parking situation?
  2. When I cruised past last time I saw two rather small bicycle parks on either side of the northern entrance to Qianmen Dajie and nothing at the southern end.

And considering how much I’ve posted about the Qianmen renovations, I guess I should go and explore it properly one day.

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