Artist community/district
One of several factories (including 706, 707, 761 and 797) that eventually split off from 718, 798 is a factory complex constructed in the 1950s in Dashanzi, Chaoyang district, in northeastern Beijing to produce military technology. By the 1990s, the shine on this former jewel of socialist high-tech had faded, and like so many State-Owned Enterprises, it had closed its doors and disbanded thousands of workers. This ‘hollowing-out’, however, was followed by an ‘in-migration’ of artists and other members of the ‘creative class’ seeking large spaces, cheap rents, relative privacy and/or the charm of the Bauhaus structures of 718’s original East German architects. In 1995, the Central Academy of Fine Arts rented 706 to store its monumental sculpture, and the school’s dean, Sui Jianguo, later moved his own sculpture and installation studio there. By the end of 2001, 798 and vicinity housed the offices of fashion magazine publisher Hong Huang; Robert Bernell’s bookstore and publishing house Timezone 8 (see chinese-art.com); an elegant studio of writer/ musician Liu Suola; the Beijing Tokyo Art Project (BTAP: Beijing Dongjing yishu gongcheng), a gallery directed by Tabata Yukihito of the Tokyo Art Gallery; and the working spaces of various artists including Mao Lizi, Gang Xin and performance artist Huang Rui. Over the next two years, 798 became home to the offices of graphic and interior designers, publicists and small ad agencies; to designer cafés, nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and fashion-show venues; and to the studio/homes of dozens of artists, including Zhao Bandi.
Numerous domestic and international art exhibitions have contributed to the success of 798, beginning with ‘Beijing Afloat’, curated by Feng Boyi at BTAP in October 2002. ‘Reconstruction 798’ and ‘Operation Ink Freedom’ inaugurated, respectively, the 798 Space Gallery and the 25,000 Li Cultural Transmission Centre in April 2003. Fourteen different exhibitions were presented under the guise of the Beijing Biennale in September 2003, including, most significantly, ‘Tui-Transfiguration’, an exhibition of the photographs of Rong Rong (see Lu Zhirong) and Inri curated by Wu Hong at Daoyaolu Workshop B, and ‘Left Hand—Right Hand’, an exhibition of Chinese and East German artists curated by Feng Boyi at the 798 Space Gallery and Daoyaolu Workshop A, reviving the collaboration that built the original 718 factory complex. Several exhibitions have also given space to emerging artists, and the entire district was showcased in the ‘First Beijing Dashanzi Art Festival’ in April and May 2004. Increasingly 798 has taken on the commercial profile of New York’s SoHo, though a more germane comparison has been made with the warehouses along the Suzhou River or with the former textile mill at 50 Moganshan Road, both in Shanghai (see Carol Lu, ‘From Underground to Public’, in Huang Rui (2004), 84–7). In either case, 798 is a far cry from Dongcun (East Village) and other avant-garde artist communities of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and serves as a kind of palimpsest of China’s economic reform; it will be interesting to watch as its new residents battle the plans of the government to turn Dashanzi into an electronics city.
Huang, Rui (ed.) (2004). Beijing 798: Reflections on Art, Architecture and Society in China. Beijing: Timezone 8/Thinking Hands.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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