Good and bad news for Nanjing architectural heritage - China’s latest society and culture news - SupChina

Good and bad news for Nanjing architectural heritage – China’s latest society and culture news

Nanjing, formerly known to English speakers as Nanking, was the capital city of various Chinese dynasties, kingdoms, and governments between the third century A.D. and 1949. As in all Chinese cities, Nanjing’s historic districts are under constant threat from infrastructure and real estate development. Now a group of architects and experts are trying to restore historic buildings in the city and adapt them for modern use, according to CNN.

A leading figure among them is Zhou Qi 周琦, a professor at Southeast University School of Architecture, whose best-known work is the People’s Daily headquarters, which attracted worldwide attention in 2013 due to its phallic appearance during construction. The resemblance disappeared when the building was complete, and Zhou’s design won an international award for exploring “the possibility of city morphology diversity in the rapid urbanization process in China.”

But Zhou’s expertise is not limited to high-rise design. According to CNN, Zhou has successfully rescued more than 100 old buildings across the city since he started restoration projects in the late 1980s. “This preservation work is so important,” Zhou told CNN. “It means we can keep old buildings for our own use — and for the next generation. Through them you can see that the city is alive.”  

Zhou’s efforts have been backed by the Nanjing government. In a 10-year plan published in 2010, the city’s leaders pledged to “emphasize the revival of history and culture” while “strengthening the organic integration of various historical and cultural sites [with] modern city functions.”

However, in practice, old neighborhoods in Nanjing are still under constant threat of demolition — see, for example, this SupChina article on the destruction of the city’s last intact historic neighborhood. Despite its words, the city government has a track record of tearing down old buildings and landscapes — both Western and Chinese in style. In 2011, when news came out that more than 40 plane trees had been uprooted to make way for a subway station, angry locals took to the streets to protest. At the time, one online commenter wrote (in Chinese): “Skyscrapers can never represent a city. The value of a city lies in its history, details, and those who live there. But leaders never realize this.

Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.