A elderly woman sifts through debris after a demolition near the Gulou area. Jonah M. Kessel / China Daily
Non-profit group says there is value to be cherished in the city's hutongs
An art auction and exhibition showcasing Beijing's dwindling hutong residences was held in the capital over the weekend.
The display of multimedia and sculptures was aimed at raising money for the Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP), a nongovernmental organization dedicated to protecting Beijing's identity through preserving its cultural heritage.
Aptly named "Do You Hutong?" the fundraising event highlighted the gradual destruction of hutong residences in the capital, something CHP Founder and chairman He Shuzhong said is destroying the city's cultural identity.
"It has been a long time since people have recognized the value of these hutong, a lot of people think of them as similar to old people, with little value left in them," he said.
A silent auction, focused around 21 clay models of hutong courtyard gates re-designed by local artists, was at the core of the event's fundraising activities. Designs ranged from gates garnished with thumbtacks to the more traditional bright red and grey brick, with minimum bids starting at 500 yuan.
A piece titled Chai Dynasty received the highest bid at 2,200 yuan.
UK designer Zara Arshad created the simple, but sleek blue and white flowered gate whose title is derived from the large Chinese character for chai, a character etched on buildings by construction workers to indicate it is slated for demolition.
She said the piece was constructed to resemble a Qing Dynasty vase, which can sell for thousands of dollars in Western auctions.
"I wanted to create something that wasn't too complicated, but still had a feeling of richness to it. Something that was classy, but simple," she said, adding that this was her first time designing anything in 3D.
The works will be on display at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre until Aug 1.
The event also featured a performance by local Beijing band Girls Are Waiting To Meet You, who rocked the audience of hundreds in the tea-light-lit courtyard area of Three Shadows.
Event organizer, Nancy Tao, said she thought the event was a huge success though the small nongovernmental organization did not meet its fundraising target.
"We did not meet our target, but our target was pretty ambitious for our first year," she said. "Just because we're small doesn't mean we can't have big dreams."
While they did not meet their target, Tao said she was extremely happy with the turnout and impressed by the number of volunteers willing to support their cause.
"In terms of the overall support and encouragement it's been tremendous, overall it exceeded our expectations," she said.
She said they hope to make the event annual and that this was a learning experience.
Proceeds from the event will be put toward funding the China Action Network (CAN), CHP's latest project designed to create an effective country-wide volunteer network.
Event-goer Matthias Heger said he thought the 150 yuan ticket for the event was a small price to pay for conserving such an indispensable aspect of the capital's culture.
"If there weren't hutong in Beijing, I don't know if I would choose to live here," he said.
"They're a real part of the city's character," said Heger.
Jonah Kessel contributed to the story.
(China Daily 07/19/2010 page25)