798 stands for much more than a three digit number: in Beijing these numbers symbolize the country's cutting edge art movement led by the Chinese vanguard, unchained artistic personalities with alternative life goals. Wild and unconquered attitudes waft inside 798's free and rambling atmosphere. This area feels a kinship to what can be discovered and sensed along the Left Bank in Paris or around Greenwich Village in NYC.
The 798 Art District is located in the Dashanzi area, Chaoyang District, in northeastern Beijing, past the 4th Ring Road. The large area was once a booming compound for the State's pre-reform electronic industries. After the economy toppled these dinosaurs the space became available and these former industrial units evolved into the now famous Factory 798.
The buildings were vital for China's old industrialization projects and they're just as key to the art scene at 798 as well. Constructed with help from the now former Soviet Union and designed by the former East German Republic, the architecture reveals and reminds visitors about the history of New China's industrialization, merging a free, creative spirit with the old, turgid Communist style.
As Beijing's economy developed after Deng Xiao Ping's reforms the structure of industry changed; the initial mission of the 798 District withered up and died. This industrial area quickly became desolate: businesses moved out, leaving empty factory shells behind. Like a graveyard the place was eerily quiet and dead.
Around 2002 an amazing reincarnation process began when artists' studios started cheerily popping up like daisies over graves. Today most of the properties are rented; new life and light has been created in these once hollow, unused buildings. Gradually the spaced has turned into a combination of swanky galleries, hip art centers & studios, pricey design companies & fashion stores, and cozy coffeehouses & bars.
798 has become the biggest arts area in China and earned great international acclaim in the space of just two years.
The 798 District impresses visitors by the odd but harmonious combination of historical and artistic factors... the formation of new, modern lifestyles in old spaces. Here art is alive and real, with artists at 798 living and working in spaces in tune with the past and the present.
The 798 Art District provides creative people with an opportunity and an outlet to enthusiastically pursue their artistic ideals. It has also given them a unique, spiritual homeland. China's artists have truly inspired new life into an area of Beijing, resurrecting the ghosts of the past while breathing in energy and innovation in the present. Indeed, China's vanguard has turned an industrial graveyard into an artistic paradise.