Written by Angie U, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for CET Beijing: International Career Pathways Summer 2019
The 798 Art Zone:
Home to huge, headless bronze sculptures and a three-story structure of red plastic dinosaurs lining the streets. Walls of neon graffiti spelling out everything from weather patterns to a strategically placed link to somebody’s Soundcloud page. Sent out in small groups to tour the district for a couple of hours, we navigated our way through the back alleys, hopping into art galleries here and there (the free ones), as well as the occasional odd little trinket shop. The original military factory facilities that existed prior to the creation of the 798 Art Zone are long gone, replaced now by a painted series of cherubic babies in what is known as the Yang Gallery. However, efforts to preserve Beijing’s cultural history of hutongs can be found in the “Hutong Remake” by Capucine Neouze.
Take a step back from the outdoors and into a classroom setting: ergo calligraphy class commences.
Stroke order, pen (or rather, brush) pressure, and immense concentration are key. Our teacher, himself a Chinese calligraphy hobbyist, guided us through every stroke – deliberate, careful, and each unique. That day, we learned to write the character “鱼” (fish) and brought it to life with accompanying paintings of little dolphin-like fish. Our one-hour lesson that day was not so much a chance to polish our artistic skills as it was a lesson in patience and the beauty of the Chinese written language.
And finally, in no particular order (and certainly not chronological), I recall the magnificence of Zanta’s jewelry-making workshop.
Zanta, a Tibetan woman supporting her and her son in Beijing by selling handmade Tibetan jewelry, was gracious enough to teach us how to make her signature Great Wall bracelet. The twisting structure of the band mimicked the winding Wall itself, headed by a watch tower represented through the single patterned bead at the center of the bracelet. We spent the hour crafting our own personalized Great Wall bracelets, giving us an insight into the painstaking manual labor and remarkable time and effort put into creating a single piece of jewelry – and our experience was made that much more meaningful in light of the bracelet’s hidden symbolism.
Beijing is a city with profound history and an incredible amount of cultural inheritance. But beyond the architectural hot spots like the Forbidden City or the Summer Palace, and beyond the iconic Peking duck and roadside tanghulu (Chinese haw) candies for sale, lies an uncountable number of art forms, new and old, simply waiting to be unearthed.