In a factory workshop in east Beijing's central business district (CBD), design store owner Chi Wei displays a weathered porcelain vase.
Chi's store, named "+86" after the Chinese mainland's zip code, showcases creative designs for ordinary household goods.
The 38-year-old graduate of Tsinghua University's Academy of Art & Design didn't know what direction his design career would take until he talked to Xue Yunda, head of the Shang Ba Culture Group, who has helped Chi set up shop in a former automobile repair center.
In 1997, Xue rented workshops in the Beijing No. 6 Factory of Auto Maintenance and the Beijing Electric Wire Cable Factory, both located in the CBD, and has since leased the space to artists, designers, filmmakers and cartoonists.
Xue's "Shang Ba cultural creativity industrial park" is believed to be the first of its kind established in China, coming five years earlier than Beijing's well-known 798 Art Zone, which was built using converted Soviet-style factories near the Beijing Capital International Airport.
TRANSFORMING OLD FACTORIES
The Beijing Electric Wire Cable Factory was the first factory to be converted by Xue into a creative space.
The disharmony between the building and the modern, soaring skyscrapers built nearby became increasingly evident over the years, said Tong Zhiqiang, director of the factory.
"The factory's workshops were easy to adapt, thanks to their spaciousness," said Xue.
A native of the industrial city of Jixi in northeast China's Heilongjiang province, Xue grew up around factories. After graduating from the Beijing Film Academy, he began his efforts to transform the capital's old factories for creative purposes.
"Old factories link the past glories of older generations with the dreams of young artists, which are to be realized in these old buildings," Xue said.
Xue said it was difficult to find artists to rent his workshops in the 1990s, when he rented his first workshops from the car repair factory. He even convinced trade companies to rent the workshops as storerooms in order to make his rental fees.
Things changed when a photographer rented space in the factory to set up a small studio. Students and graduates from nearby Tsinghua University's Academy of Art & Design started coming to set up their own studios.
After Xue managed to rent out 10,000 square meters of space in the factory, he sought to expand his mission.
OASIS IN A CULTURAL DESERT
The location of the workshops and their reasonable prices have since attracted many cultural companies encompassing a variety of disciplines.
Director Ju Anqi, who also has a studio in the area, said Xue's park has managed to integrate every step of the film production process, including investment, promotion and distribution.
Establishing similar industrial chains should be emphasized in other cultural industry parks, with upstream and downstream sectors supporting each other, Xue said.
Xue has established nine cultural industry parks thus far, housing 300 cultural enterprises.
The park's residents include the production offices of Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong) Ltd. and the Los Angeles-headquartered Base FX, an Emmy Award-winning visual effects and animation production studio.
The companies based in Xue's parks cover the fields of film-making, contemporary art, advertising, design, music and other cultural sectors, Xue said. Six of the nine parks are located in the CBD.
As of July, the operating revenues of companies based in Xue's parks totaled more than 17 billion yuan (2.73 billion U.S. dollars), according to the Shang Ba Culture Group.
"The ideal location and low costs of old factories are an advantage for developing cultural industrial clusters," said Li Xin, an associate research fellow at Tsinghua University's cultural industry research institute.
"Cultural industry parks in the city's business area are like an oasis in a desert," Xue said, adding that his Shang Ba cultural parks aim to become a leader of and model for the country's cultural industry. Endit