I landed in Beijing on January 29th, 2007 on my first trip to Asia at the ripe age of 22. I’d been sent on a project for work with little more than a weeks notice. Despite being weary from the flight, I vividly remember the ride from the airport. Everything was covered with a thin layer of dust, the air dry and thick with the haze of pollution. Read more
Since it’s unveiling in July, the logo for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and its designer Kenjiro Sano, have been mired in controversy amid accusations of plagiarism and a decidedly tepid reaction from the public. Read more
For the first time since its completion I finally had a chance to see Beijing’s centrepiece National Stadium dubbed the “Birds Nest”. On both of my previous visits to Beijing in 07 & 08 I had wandered around the perimeter of the building site to get a glimpse of this striking steel lattice structure but had never been inside before. Getting there is pretty easy using the subway line 8 spur.
After purchasing a ticket (50 RMB) though a gap in the iron railings which surround the stadium you’re basically left to wander around the stadium freely, which has been left pretty much as is was, complete with thousands of red and white seats sitting expectantly in neat rows. It’s an awe inspiring structure which is as impressive in the flesh as it was on TV but you have to wonder what on earth they can use it for now, other than a tourist attraction.
It was evident by the somewhat haphazard approach to the way in which the area has been opened up to tourism that the Chinese authorities didn’t really have a plan about what to do with the stadium and other facilities once the 2008 Olympic games were over. Right now it’s a bit of a white elephant, albeit a beautiful elephant!
I’m sure someone could think up a creative idea about how to bring the place back to life. For starters they could so easily play highlights of the games on the enormous screens which still hang dormant at either end of the stadium and give a little history about the construction process etc. Even better would be if they were able to put on some sort of daily re-enactment of the opening ceremony which I’m sure would pull in even bigger crowds.
Sadly the chances are that it’ll be allowed to slowly mould or be turned into a gigantic shopping mall which is the mainstay of modern Chinese urban planning. Whatever the future holds the Birds Nest and the neighbouring Water Cube are triumphs of creative and imaginative architecture and I only hope they wont go to waste.
I only have one word to describe the opening ceremony to the Beijing 2008 Olympics – Spectacular!
China certainly knows how to put on show and with Zhang Yimou at the helm you wouldn’t really expect anything less. London now has a lot to live up to but I can already guarantee you it’ll be tame in comparison to this.
I’ll let the photos do the talking… can’t wait to download this in HD!
All photos © Getty Images – larger versions can be found at The Big Picture
Throughout the world there have been countless instances where irreplaceable pieces of history have been flattened in the name of progress only for future generations to look back and wonder how their forbears could have been so short sighted as to destroy that which was their last connection to the past.
With China developing at an unprecedented rate nowhere is the mantra of “out with the old, in with the new” more visible, especially in Beijing where many of the dynastic treasures lie. Whilst the government may be going to great lengths to preserve and promote the tourist honey pots it’s the less obvious treasures of ‘old’ Beijing which are at risk of disappearing and with them an important part of China’s heritage.
The pictures above and below show the rapidly developing new face of Qianmen, just south of Tiananmen Square, almost entirely demolished under the “conservation” plan and its occupants removed to make way for an idealised version of it’s former self in what can only be described as Olympic vandalism of the most senseless form. Unique local merchants are being replaced with international designer brand names to create a disneyfied version of China (supposedly in the Ming-era style) with about as much character as a meeting of the communist party.
This urban renewal also takes it’s toll on the communities who have lived within the remaining enclaves for generations and are being uprooted to make way for a world which is as foreign as it is Chinese; herein lies the tragic irony, mirrored across this vast land of conflicting extremes. I was particularly dismayed to see some of the fascinating hutongs which I visited last year had been bulldozed and their former inhabitants now banished to the history books (or in all likelihood cheaply built tower blocks on the city outskirts).
Further along from Qianmen lies the Beijing Natural History Museum, famed in The Rough Guide To Beijing for its grotesque display of pickled human corpses. Whilst the appropriately named “Room of baddies” is still shown on the english language guide map the human remains are no more; as with everything in this city of change they too have fallen victim this latest round of cultural cleansing.
Above, a video from the Hard Hat Show documenting the destruction of a 600 year old temple, yet another casualty in Beijing’s ever-shrinking hutong neighborhoods.
As Beijing says goodbye to the past you can’t but help wonder if it’s vision of the future is just the rebirth of Maoist reform wrapped up in a new veneer but contianing all the same mistakes of the past…
More from this series: