World Architecture Day 2014
 
 
 
 
Barking up the wrong tree
Michael Hammond

World press gets it wrong over Beijing’s ancient Guanghe Theatre

This week has seen a huge media outcry over the destruction of a “priceless” architectural heirloom in China. The Beijing Guanghe Theatre it is said, dates back to the final days of the Ming dynasty and is about to be bulldozed by the terrible Chinese Government. However all is not as it seems, WAN investigates.
Such was the outcry that no-one was safe. Even western architects (always a handy scapegoat) were dragged into this highly controversial debate

 

being criticised as one of the beneficiaries of Beijing’s huge transformation from an “untouched” Peking of the fifties.
It had all the hallmarks of a horror movie and probably it would have been called Cultural Revolution 2. But this story like any good movie had a twist in its tale.
“Old Beijing falls to Olympics bulldozer” went the headline in the UK’s Sunday Times, “Beijing to raze ancient theatre” cried the BBC, “Curtains for Beijing's oldest opera theatre” screamed Reuters. Even the New Zealand Herald jumped on the bandwagon running the headline “Closing chorus for oldest opera house” and inferring the theatre dated back to 1368 and the list goes on....
It was a great story and one in which we could all get on our high horses and criticise the communist authoritarian regime. This was clearly a “must” for WAN. However, something was missing. Gradually alarm bells of a different kind began to ring in the WAN newsroom. There was not one photograph of this wonderful architectural heritage.
More research found that we were not the only ones concerned about the lack of photographs. Richard Spencer, the Telegraph’s Beijing correspondent went to see for himself. What he found was quite

 

surprising.
The original Ming theatre had already been destroyed. When had this outrage happened? It turns out that this was not last week but over two hundred years ago. It had been burnt down by a devastating fire and rebuilt in the Qing era. Well OK so it should still be of architectural interest I hear you saying? Ahh, but that one was bulldozed in the early Maoist times and replaced with a pebble-dashed Soviet style Modernist monster.
This revelation of course doesn’t mean that huge areas of Beijing aren’t being systematically ravaged by the Chinese Government’s running dogs driven by ideals of a time past and fuelled by capitalist visions of the future…. But this building is no pedigree, just an old mongrel.

Editorial


 
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