Town Planning Review

Art and power in the new China: An exploration of Beijing's 798 district and its implications for contemporary urbanism

Town Planning Review (2008), 79, (2-3), 237–265.

Abstract

This article explores urban change in the Chinese context, specifically in terms of the creation of Beijing's Dashanzi Arts District, also known as 798. As the fusing of the cultural and economic now defines cities within the post-industrial economy, Beijing is recognising the symbolic importance of the arts within its financial system and urban image construction. The campaign for and establishment of the arts district demonstrates not only a political awareness of the economic power behind cultural districts, but also the increasing pluralisation of power within Chinese society. This paper will focus on how the 798 Arts District has been branded, first unofficially by its original artists to preserve the industrial area and then officially to promote Beijing as a global city. In relation to the cultural shift in Chinese urban policy and the global utilisation of arts districts in urban image construction, it will discuss how the area is both a result of and an influence on China's contemporary culture. It also explores the possible gentrification consequences of the area's establishment and places such a scenario within the increasingly global (yet still overwhelmingly Eurocentric) reach of gentrification research.

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Currier, Jennifer