Friday, December 20, 2013

In Memory of Changsha's Beizheng Street

Last month as I walked past and through the remnants of many demolished buildings around Beizheng Street in Changsha, Hunan province, I considered China's large number of forced evictions and the constant change so easily found in its rapidly developing cities. In the previous two posts I shared photos of what I saw around Beizheng Street and made several direct comparisons to what I saw there last year. In many ways, the area was similar to other demolished neighborhoods I have seen in China. But one scene included something remarkable I had not seen before--a creation arising from the rubble itself.

men constructing a reddish brick sculpture while two other men photograph it

For about 10 minutes I watched several people working on the brick sculpture. I then headed off to explore more of the neighborhood knowing I would pass by again before leaving.

When I returned, they were putting on the finishing touches. Boldly standing out was the Chinese word "记忆" (jìyì) which translates to "memory".

men applying a whitish paint to a sculpture of the Chinese word "记忆"

I soon met with several of the artists who created the sculpture.

Chinese artist in glasses with the "记忆" sculpture in the background

two Chinese artists, one holding a camera, with the "记忆" sculpture in the background

While I was there, many people passed by without stopping, but some paused for a few moments to look at the new sight. A few curious schoolgirls took a close look and were invited to be photographed with two of the artists.

two artists and 3 young girls posing for a photo in front of the sculpture of "记忆".

All of the artists had grown up around Beizheng Street and now worked in the advertising industry in Guangzhou, about 8 hours away from Changsha by car. They had returned to build the sculpture, which symbolized all that would be left of the Beizheng Street they had known. When I asked one artist how he now felt looking at his old neighborhood he replied, "Angry."

New structures will rise in the future, but how many of them will retain something of the old Beizheng Street? I imagined the sculpture remaining, maybe in a small park, as one small sign of the past. That's probably just a fantasy though. Like much else which could recently be found at Beizheng Street, the "memory" itself may already only be a memory. The artists guessed it would last for at most 3 weeks, perhaps a fitting existence. Regardless, what matters most is not whether their sculpture remains standing. What matters is that they built it at all.

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