Home Institution

Columbia University

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities


Arts districts have traditionally been associated with industrial areas that have been reconstructed to fit post-industrial economies. From Tate Modern in the U.K. to 798 in Beijing, abandoned factories have been refitted into cultural clusters. Yet, there is a research gap when concerning arts district in less traditional spaces. This study examines how this framework applies in Beijing’s Caochangdi art district, aiming to understand how place-specific factors influence the development of an arts district and what Western gentrification theory looks like in a Chinese light. During the month of May 2014, I conducted twenty interviews, including nine with members of the art community in Caochangdi, nine with residents and workers in the village and members of the village committee, as well as those in academia specializing in the topic of urban villages. Numerous site visits were conducted, as well as visits to neighboring art districts of 798, Heiqiao, and Huantie.

Caochangdi, an arts district founded in a rural, instead of post-industrial, space, reveals that the development of an arts district as a place-bounded process.Historical land ownership rights, the conception of the space as primarily a place for living, and the illegality of the structures in the village according to land laws, all serve to mediate the pace of development of the arts district. In contrast to industrial spaces like 798 with unified management and control, villagers and residents have claim to space in ways that slow down commercialization. Artists feed into the migrant waves already flocked to Caochangdi, contributing to altering rural lifestyles and economics. The relationship between the urban village and the arts district, and the various manifestations this occurs, illuminate that far from following a Western model of development, Caochangdi is heavily influenced by its localized, historical environment.


Arts and Humanities | Community-Based Research | Growth and Development | Place and Environment | Urban Studies and Planning


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