Starting in the 1950’s, 798 was originally part of the 718 Factory district of Beijing. During the “Great Leap Forward” the recently formed People’s Republic of China constructed a massive district for the people to live and work on a variety of military and civilian equipment. 798, in particular, was where the ammunitions factories were located.
During the 1980’s the factories were defunded, decommissioned, abandoned and became defunct. But after a period of being destitute, artists starting coming back in the late 80’s and 90’s to the 798 district where they could rent space for next to nothing. It slowly became more popular for artists and sure enough there was a lot of talent brimming in the district.
Then came the cafes, restaurants, book stores, street vendors, art dealers and galleries. The 798 art district continued to grow and today is the vanguard of the Chinese art scene boasting well over 100 galleries and some of the biggest names in the art world such as Pace Gallery, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Boers-Li Gallery, Beijing Commune and Galleria Continua.
798 still looks quite industrial at first glance and it is a bit gritty due to the ever present pollution issues Beijing faces. It’s architecture looks very unique compared to the rest of Beijing. During the formation of the district, China teamed up with East Germany and Russia to establish industry. Consequently the area was architecturally designed by East Germans in a sui generis Bauhaus style.
Now there is so much to see that even over the period of months one can still make remarkable discoveries everyday. There is definitely no shortage of talent, inspiration and a thriving creative culture there. Here is an array of public and privately, commissioned and noncommissioned displayed artworks that are strewn throughout 798.
If you are traveling to Beijing, make sure to put the 798 art district on your list!