Fight to save Guangzhou arts hub rumoured to be slated for demolition

Former factory that artists took over three years ago could be razed for another finance centre - this in a city short on culture

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 March, 2013, 4:22am

Just as the Southern Weekly saga has begun to settle, another fight is brewing in Guangdong cultural circles over the threatened demolition of Redtory, an arts hub in Guangzhou similar to Beijing's 798 art zone.

Redtory is an abbreviation of red factory, as the arts hub is based in a former canned food factory built of red brick in 1956. It has become Guangzhou's favourite creative cultural park and the demolition threat has become hot news in the local media this past week.

Debate began after a deputy director of Guangdong's health department, Liu Xinbo, revealed on his personal microblog recently that Redtory might have to make way for a financial hub and expressed concern that the three-year-old arts hub could be flattened.

Deputy Guangzhou mayor Chen Rugui was asked this week if Redtory would be removed to free up land for development. His reply was vague, saying it would all depend on urban planning.

Even though the demolition has not been officially confirmed, local media, art critics and members of the public have already come out to oppose it.

Preserving old sites of historical or cultural value from profit-driven development has long been a concern among Guangzhou residents and their fears have not been eased by the installation of a new Communist Party chief for the province.

Guangdong party secretary Hu Chunhua has emphasised the need to boost economic output to keep Guangdong at the head of the provincial rankings on the mainland and for Guangzhou to maintain its lead over Tianjin .

But Guangzhou, the provincial capital, already has enough land dedicated to the financial sector, including the Zhujiang New Town and Nansha . Qianhai in Shenzhen and Hengqin in Zhuhai have also talked big about delivering state-of-the-art financial services, making many wonder whether Guangzhou really needs another super-sized financial centre.

Luo Yanguang, former chairman of the Guangzhou Artists' Association, told the New Express this week that culture and art were the soul of a city.

He said Manhattan had 32 art museums, 30 libraries and countless cultural venues.

"Guangzhou is far behind that," Luo said. "If a city still makes GDP a priority and neglects culture, this is very dangerous."

Many famous old buildings in Guangzhou have fallen victim to development, including a protected building belonging to the historic Huangpu Military Academy, formerly known as the Whampoa Military Academy and the cradle of China's modern revolutions and military reforms. The building was converted into a nightclub in 2010.

Others to have fallen victim to demolition include the Guangdong arcade buildings on Zhongshan Road and examples of Republic of China-style architecture on Enning Road.

"What is an abandoned canning factory built in 1956 in the face of all these historical sites?" the Nanfang Daily asked in an editorial.

More than 80 per cent of the 3,704 internet users who responded to an online poll on the reported demolition plan said they would be sorry to see Redtory go.

"It's too short-sighted to kill the only bit of modern art culture left in Guangzhou," one said. Another said: "Everyone says Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou are cultured and creative. Guangzhou only has Redtory. If they take that last bit of creativity away, I really don't know what other soft power is left in this city."