Negotiating Beijing's Identity at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

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Dissent and Cultural Resistance in Asian Cities, 2009, First, pp. 33 - 52
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Old Beij ing was a cultural space characterized and confined by walls (Wang, 2003; Lu, 2005). In the last few years increasing attention has been focused on the sociospatial transformation of Beijing, and a common denominator identified by many scholars is the vanish ing of the city walls. This pivotal element is immediately associated with material loss. However, some scholars have taken this analysis a step further addressing the city without walls as a 'microcosm of what has happened to Chinese culture." (Wang, 1990' quoted by Zha, 1996: 67). This chapter concentrates on the work of Zhang Dali, an artist who has chosen the Beijing walls as his canvas. The focus is on the significance of his work and the relevant reaction. The analysis of the association between wounded walls, urban culture, and history re-writing will demonstrate that the pJlysical loss of the walls has deep implications for Beijing's identity at the turn of the twenty-first century. Zhang Dati's work is indicative of a counter-discourse of intellectual resistance both to the homogenizing transformative dynamics of the city and to the accompanying dominant narrative of progress, forwardness, and globalizing "newness.' Traditionally, walls were the pillars of Beijing's construction as a space of order. Their disruption offers Zhang Dali the opportunity to create a "dialogue" on the city and denounce, looking tllrough the walls the emergence of spaces of exception.
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