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次大修缮筑成新前门

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

前门大街始建于1436年,历史上共有5次大修缮。

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

第一次是在康熙18年,公元1679年,因京城大地震造成房屋倒塌毁坏。

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.

第二次是1900年,八国联军入侵北京城,前门大街被烧毁而修葺。

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.

第三次是上世纪二十年代,人们印象中的前门大街从那时起开始建立。

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

第四次于上世纪70年代,全聚德烤鸭店等大型商厦始建于此时。

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

第五次就是于去年5月开始的修缮,今年8月7日再次与游客见面,建筑风格以上世纪二三十年代风格为主。前门大街共长846米,道路中央设置铛铛车轨道。

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:

二期工程有望设停车场

Carparks hopefully will be installed in project’s second phase

有市民提出新前门附近不方便停车和存自行车

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]

昨日,一些游客反映,骑车或者开车来前门,最让他们头疼的是没有停车场和存车处。前门大街安保指挥部负责人表示,此问题有望在二期工程时得以解决。

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.

一名带着孩子的北京市民表示,他们这次开车来前门,把车放在了距离前门大街几百米远的一块空地上,而且车位很少,很不方便。

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.

另外一名骑车的人则担心车子放在胡同里被盗,尤其是骑好车的人更有此担心,感觉逛街时心里还总惦记着外面的车子。

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.

对此,前门大街安保指挥部负责人孙国进警官表示,这些问题目前正在解决中,在前门大街二期工程竣工后,停车场和正规的自行车存放处都将设立。前门大街二期工程现在正在论证当中,有可能是建成四合院样式的星级饭店。

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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