Cultural Preservation Team Update

This post is by Alice Fang, Aiwa Musihua, Caroline Nowacki, Qihan (Philip) Luo

To study cultural preservation, our team started by using the mind map method to brainstorm concepts and ideas related to cultural preservation. On this map, we identified six main themes:

  1. Possible conflict between old and new (visible in the spatial space or not);
  2. How to identify what to preserve;
  3. Perception of culture, old and new;
  4. Multiplicity of stakeholders and their diverse interests;
  5. Location of culturally rich districts; and
  6. Cost and benefits of cultural preservation.

From this brainstorming session, we jumped into field study and decided to visit a famous preserved historic district: Dashilar. Dashilar is a traditional neighborhood made of hutongs or narrow alley and located just South of Tian’an Men. The Central Government chose to protect and renovate this area. The facades and shops on the main streets have been rebuilt and repainted and the place is now a vibrant touristic area. Our first fieldwork focused on understanding the nature and number of businesses on the main street, observe who walked in the street and who worked there, and finally interview one person. This person was actually the owner of a courtyard house (Siheyuan) not too far from Dashilar and invited us to visit her courtyard and continue the discussion about the challenges of living there and having to maintain a house that is protected by the Government.

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Bicycle Urbanism Team Update

This post is by Valerie Gamao, Joyce Hujing, J.K., Yipei Shen, Elaine Zhou

Our group is Bicycle Urbanism and Livelihoods. We’re Elaine, Valerie, Yipei, Joyce, and JK. We hail from different states in the US and provinces in China, and three different majors (earth systems, interaction design, and computer science).


Our first day, we brainstormed a variety of questions on urban bicycling and bicycle livelihoods. We used the mind-mapping method to collect all of our questions into four categories: the individual, bicycle, environment, and society. From the brainstorming session, we realized we had so many unanswered questions, even as to “what is a bike?” or what kind of bicycles are relevant to Beijing. Thus, we launched right into our first field study, to get a sense of types of bikes, how and why people bike in this city. We decided to observe the bicycle scene close to our home base: Wudaokou and the Tsinghua East Gate. Our methodology included counting for 6 minutes and informal interviews.

At each site, we recorded 6 minutes of time-lapse footage and counter the number of bikers passing by, as categorized by the types of bike (mechanical, electric, or electric scooter). At Wudoukou, we found 28 mechanical bikes, 9 electric bikes, and 25 scooters. There were many more cars and didn’t seem to be a clear preference for bicycle type. However, it was evident that different bikes were favored by particular demographics — younger people for electric bikes and scooters, versus older folks for mechanical bikes. At the East Gate however, we found 113 mechanical bikes, 11 electric bikes, and 19 electric scooters. With the focus narrowed down to a student demographic on a university campus, the preference for mechanical bikes is very clear.

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Afternoon, Perfectly Bright

Walking down the hutong lane,
I encounter a green-leafed archway
casting cool shade.

A small dog patters by,
passing a trio of wandering ducks.
Minnows flicker in a tub near splashing guppies.

Residents seated under an awning
fan themselves,
tracing the air with
broad, lazy strokes,
issuing a trail of leisure.

Nuts roasting in an outdoor pan
give rise to a powerful and inviting scent
that wafts along a darkened corridor,
drawing passers-by deeper into an unseen courtyard.

I pull away from the siren doorway
and plunge onward to encounter
sunlit patches
of warm, gray bricks.
Bicycles chatter along the road,
wheels turning, handlebar bells ringing.

The afternoon is
by the sound of small chimes.

I ride a light breeze to the end of the lane,
swallowed by air and time.
I alight onto solid ground,
then disappear into the thoroughfare beyond.

Historical Beijing

On Thursday, we visited the Shijia Hutong Museum, a site celebrating the culture and life of Old Beijing. Many of the city’s hutong—lanes or alleyways—date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. They are composed of a series of traditional courtyard homes called siheyuan, which have for much of the city’s history have made up the vast majority of the urban fabric. (For example, in 1949, over 1.9 million residents coexisted in a city of largely one- or two-story buildings.)

After the Communists came to power, they began razing the city to accommodate Mao’s plans for urban industrialization, despite fierce opposition from planning experts, historians, and the famous architect Liang Sicheng. This is when Beijing lost its walls. However, many of the city’s traditional courtyards still survived the tumult of the Socialist era. It was actually the rapid construction of the go-go 1980s and 1990s that accelerated the destruction of Beijing’s architectural heritage, and to date, thousands of hutongs have been demolished.

[View of Shijia Hutong Museum Courtyard]

[View of Street Model]

See more pictures in our gallery of Shijia Hutong Museum after the jump.

What were once beautiful, meticulously-kept homes have fallen into disrepair, and the numbers of hutong neighborhoods are dwindling. The Shijia hutong is a restored courtyard home that once belonged to the Ling family. One of its most famous residents was Ling Shuhua, a painter and writer, and her husband Chen Xiying (Chen Yuan). In China in the early twentieth century, it was the literati—essayists, novelists, artists, poets—who were the country’s rockstars, and people eagerly followed their scholarly and personal lives, while celebrating their travels and exploits. The 1920s and 1930s are often deemed the “Golden Age of Intellectualism” as writing flourished, open debate took place in magazines and newspapers, and a sense of freedom and cultural evolution took hold as China broke from its strictly Confucian past to engage with the modern world.

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Day 5: Fieldwork

Day 4: Fieldwork



Day 3: Historic and Cultural Beijing; Visit to Shijia Hutong Museum