Beijing: Challenges and Prospects as a New World City

来源: 本站       作者: 顾朝林       时间:2010-11-26

     Beijing, in the year in which new China was established, was a dilapidated old city, with an urban area was of just 62.5 square kilometers and an urban population less than 210,000.  By 2008, Beijing had developed into a modern international metropolis with an urban area of 1085 square kilometers, permanent population of 16.95 million people, and a GDP that reached nearly 1.05 trillion yuan.  The percentage of the primary industry, secondary industry and tertiary industry was 1.08, 25.68, and 73.24. The housing use area per capita was 21.56 square meters, public green land per capita 12.6 square meters, with a green coverage rate of 40% in the city.

Today, Beijing is one of the most exciting and dynamic cities on earth.  The transformation of Beijing from recently  being a rather drab, dull and austere production city, albeit one with  long historical roots, towards being a city of hi-tech manufacturing, service provision and mass consumption has been breathless in its speed and scope.  Planning has played, and will continue to play, a major role in guiding and directing the nature of new developments, including the preservation and conservation of ancient hutong areas on the one hand, contrasting with the high rise cathedrals of consumption on the other.  Not, however, that this planning process is unproblematic.  The drive to build at such a rate and scale can lead to problems: social, environmental, cultural and governmental, and planning must adapt and change in order to keep up with the new challenges posed in the new century.  Unlike other cities in this volume, Beijing is both a socialist capital of a modern China that is becoming increasingly self-confident and assertive, and a city that is also a new world city, prepared to engage at a global  level beyond the confines of China itself.  In this chapter we examine urban challenges and prospects towards a world city.

1.      Changing urban landscapes and social spaces: towards a world city

Before the Reform Period, the domination of production units in the danwei noted above resulted in Chinese cities being full of ‘functionally and visually homogeneous landscapes’ (Gaubatz, 1995: 31) that could extend over vast areas.  As Gaubatz notes, the reforms ushered in a reduction in the planning power of the work-units and an increase in overall municipal planning that was to lead to a growing separation of work and residence, although these residences, as in the example of Fangzhuang in South East Beijing might be dominated by the workforce of specific workplaces, in this case the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Public Security Bureau.  This separation was to bring urban  features similar to those  in many other large cities around the globe and the next two sections will illustrate the building types that were to become typical of the 1990s and the 2000s.  The desire for planning on the grand scale was laudable, in the attempt to  regulate and direct the movement and construction of new industries, offices, hotels and ministries.   However, although the power of work-units was lessened, the power of the market system, in part due to the desire to introduce ‘a mixed system of plans and markets’ (Chan, 1994: 98), increased in the 1990s and after, and as in other parts of the globe led to a number of problems.  

For example, Liu (2002) noted that urban growth in the outer area in the years 1982-92 was concentric, at an average distance of 7.5 km from the city centre.  By 1992-97 growth was now mainly in the North, and to a lesser extent to the South, at an average that was now 10.8 km.  Such  sprawl ‘seriously violated the General Plan of Beijing’ which designated growth towards the southern and eastern parts of the city (ibid: 272).  Other problems included the fact that such suburban growth led to a ‘huge loss of high quality arable  lands’, ‘encroached upon limited open space’ and of course ‘caused traffic burden’ to these areas (Jiang 475).  In part, such changes are the result of the development of a land market that:

“drives the spatial separation of land use.  In other words, office and commercial development have an economic advantage in locations close to the city centre, whereas industrial development is pushed farther away towards the suburbs.  Residential development is most likely to take place in  between” (Ding, 2004:


Such separation of form and function has led to Beijing suffering from many of

the problems of other great cities in Asia, with, for instance the city being measured as being the most polluted city on earth by 2005, causing great concerns in advance over the Beijing Olympics of 2008 (Cook, 2007).

1.1 Architectural style and landmarks

There are different Beijing landmarks to create a look in different periods. These 3 landmark buildings reflected the spirit that the city animates, recording of economic,

technological, cultural characteristics, but more importantly, trend-setting to promote architectural and urban pattern of evolution.

1.1.1        A modern tradition before 1976

In the 1950s, under the Communist Party  in Beijing, architecture of socialist realism or ‘Socialist Content with National Form’ was promoted. The Friendship Hotel by Zhang Bo (Beijing, 1956) and some of the Ten Grand Projects such as the Palace of Nationalities and the Beijing Railway Station (by Zhang Bo and Yang Tingbao respectively, 1959) are primary examples.  In some important cases, such as the two Grand Projects to the east and west of Tiananmen Square, that is , the Museum of Revolution and History and the Great Hall of the People (by Zhang Kaiji, Zhao Dongri and  Zhang Bo, Beijing, 1959), Chinese roofs were not used but decorative motifs were applied extensively.

In the case of socialist modernism, architecture was to serve large, public, collective functions.  As  a consequence of radical campaigns of the Cultural Revolution, popular and literal icons such as large portraits of Mao, characters of revolutionary slogans, and sculptures of red flags, red torches and the ‘revolutionary masses’ in a socialist-realist genre were applied on or around the buildings, as per the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao to the south of Tiananmen Square completed in 1977 (Zhu, 2009).

The celebration project for the tenth anniversary of the People’s Republic in 1959 marked a major breakthrough in this destructive-constructive effort of Maoist China. It included the completion of the 400,000 m2 Tiananmen Square and the Ten Grand Buildings by 1 October 1959, the PRC National Day. 

1.1.2        “Neo-National Style” and “Modern Vernacular” in the 1980s

The 1960s were quiet in construction, and Mao’s Cultural Revolution reached its apogee in 1966-69. There was a wide range of approaches from straight revivalism to creative use of traditional Chinese elements with Post-Modern influence (Western Railway Station, Beijing).  Another one  was modern vernacular.  Instead of employing Chinese roofs of the imperial tradition as in the National Style, a regional, vernacular language (including pitched roofs, traditional window patterns, wall textures in vernacular houses) is employed  in a design which is also consciously modern or abstract (Denton Corker Marshall’s Australian Embassy in Beijing(1982-92) (Zhu, 2009).

1.1.3        Neo-Classical or Late Modern in the 1990s

The third style was more neo-classical or late modern ,for example,  Wu Liangrong’s  Juer Hutong Houses (Beijing, 1992),  Guan Zhaoye’s New Library at Tsighua University (Beijing, 1991), Liu Li’s Yanhuang Art Gallery (Beijing, 1991). 

1.1.4        The International Style in the 2000s

To produce marks of distinction in global media and for global competition, and also in relation to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, state and municipal governments have proposed to build large-scale cultural facilities in Beijing.  Through design competitions, many foreign architects with portfolios in the new and radical modernism of the 1990s won the commissions.  Many projects are now under construction or have recently been completed.  These include the new headquarters of China Centre Television (CCTV) by Rem Koolhaas (with ECADI), the National Olympic Stadium by Herzog & de Meuron with China Architecture Design and Research Group (CAG), and the National Grand Theatre by Paul Andreu.  Some structures are modernist with a proper  image for public institutions by Chinese architects, such as the China Academy of Urban Planning and Research, by Cui Kai in 2003. 

What is emerging in Beijing today is a special landscape for which the Chinese state has invited the most suitable architects around the world to design the landmarks of an ‘open, modern, international city’ of Beijing, as ‘new images of the nation after reform and opening-up’.  This landscape is a spectacle with great symbolic capital, a spectacle of great marks of distinction, which will showcase Beijing and China in the global media with its pervasive and instantaneous circulation of images.  These buildings, in fact, are themselves symbols and material components of a real socio-economic and political transformation in Beijing and in China (Zhu, 2009).

1.2        After 1976: a social landscape

As we have shown, the radical change and transition in Beijing happened from a radical vanguard of Marxism-Leninism in the earlier decades of the twentieth century to the socialist market economy of the 1990s.  The process may be regarded as involving two phases, the 1980s and 1990s, with 1989 as a dividing point.  The first decade was characterized by grand idealistic debate with a profound uncertainty, and a successful rural reform but an increasingly difficult urban reform with rising corruption.  The conflict between the need for further privatization and the need for social stability, between corruption and social critique, and between a  neo-liberal/conservative elite and a rising social critique based on ideals of equity and ‘democracy’ voiced by students, erupted in the late 1980s.  The 1990s started with stronger state control and a further opening up of the market economy after Deng’s speech in 1992.  The neo-liberal and neo-conservative package was further implemented with apparent ease and success.  The ‘socialist market economy’, now fully installed, allowed a liberal market economy to prosper alongside or within the strong centralist state under  the Communist Party.  This package has delivered an apparent social stability together with a staggering economic growth rate, which has been continuously the highest in the  world.  Yet underlying problems, notably income disparity, environmental pollution  and the neglect of social welfare, are accumulating at the same time.  The result of this process is that a different urban society has emerged.

1.3        Great international competitions and the 2008 Olympics

1.3.1        Refocusing the City on its Central Axis

On July 13, 2001, the Olympic Committee named Beijing as the site for the 2008 Olympic Games. It is “New Beijing, Great Olympics” that foretells the ambitions of promoting a series of transformations connected to the event, suited to forge a radical change and present the new face of the ancient capital, talking advantage of the high  impact the event has always had in host cities (Gold and Gold, 2007). According to the design philosophy of the central axis of the old city of Beijing, the Olympic Green was designed as new part of the old North-South central axis. The northern end of the central axis dissolves into the waters and hills of nature, with a water system running through the whole area adding life and beauty to the city’s built environment. The layout framework is built on the four key functions, i.e. sport, culture, convention exhibition, and business. These functions shall be on both sides of the central axis. The hill, the water system, the central axis and the various function zones present a myriad of landscapes.

1.3.2        Beijing Olympic Park

The general plan of the Olympic Park was awarded to the American firm Sasaki Associates, for its symbolic scheme using likenesses of water dragons and meandering greens.  It is planned as  a multifunction public area, holding such activities as sport, culture, exhibition, leisure and sightseeing. As the core area for the Olympic Games, it accommodates 10 venues and 10 events, as well as key facilities such as the Olympic Village, the International Broadcast Centre and the Main Press Centre. The sports activities are concentrated principally in  a vast area along the north-south Central Axis beyond the Fourth Ring Road, called the Olympic Green. It refers to an area of 1159 hectares situated in the northern part of Beijing that was the fulcrum of the 2008 Olympics. Arranged along  the capital’s historic Central Axis, it extends from the Chinese Ethnic Culture  Park on the Fourth Ring Road, to just beyond the Fifth Ring Road. It includes the Wali Forest Park, the Olympic Central Area, the National Olympic Sports Centre and the Chinese Ethnic Park. The area is configured as a multipurpose, open public space, subdivided into three principal sectors.  The first, to the south inside the Fourth Ring Road, had already undergone a considerable degree of development, well before the Olympic events.  In fact, it had been the site for the XI Asian Games in 1990.  An international congressional centre was inaugurated, as well as three stadiums, numerous hotels, some parks, and a few museums.


1.3.3        National Grand Theatre

The National Grand Theatre was awarded to Paul Andreu and has a huge curved dome in titanium plates and glass panels above an underwater tunnel.  The performance complex is conceived as a citadel of theatres enclosed on the inside by an elliptical cupola, semi-transparent, in glass and gray titanium, surrounded by water.  The entrance to the north on Chang’an Avenue is connected to the subway station and to a huge parking garage for 2500 vehicles.   The interior is divided into three groups: the opera house, a concert hall and a theatre.  Broudehoux (2004) discusses the controversies concerning this radical design.


1.3.4        The Bird’s Nest

The Bird’s Nest: National Olympic Stadium is the new landmark of Beijing. It was awarded to Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron with CAG, Beijing.  It is the realization of the idea, simple but closely bound to traditional Chinese culture, of a ‘bird’s nest,’ or as described by artist Ai Weiwei, who collaborated with the Swiss masters in conceiving the work, of the traditional local porcelain bowls, with their minute craquelet network of tiny cracks.   The rigid and functional sporting volume is thus transformed into a poetic yet powerful architecture, which has already become the internationally recognized new symbol of the ancient capital. 



1.3.5        Water Cube

The National Aquatics Centre is affectionately dubbed the “Water Cube”. It was awarded to the Australian firm PTW.  The Water Cube is a large, reticular enclosure with walls that look like water bubbles, obtained using a complex spatial structure of steel tubing, over which is extended a filling of an innovative, translucent, inflatable material. The inspiration of the “Water  Cube” structural design originates from Kelvin’s “Bubble” theory, enlarging the bubble structure  to the dimensions of a building structure. This structural system is based on the most effective segmentation model of 3D space that universally exists in Nature. As  the sunlight filters through, spectators and athletes feel they are inside a magical underwater world, and by night the Cube is transformed into a luminescent aquarium. 



1.3.6        National Indoor Stadium

The National Indoor Stadium is 213m long from south to north, and 123m long from east to west. It was designed and constructed by Chinese people. The building is partly sunken under the ground. There is a green slope square for the spectators, who can go from the urban roads through the green slope square to enter the spectator section of the gymnasium and thus avoid  intersection which other people (athletes, media and so on ) and vehicles.  

1.3.7        Digital Beijing

By use of topology, Digital Beijing was designed as a new aesthetic image for the Olympic Games by Zhu Pei.  It looks like an enlarged part of an integrated circuit board or a microchip growing out of quiet water with water outpouring downward from the top like a waterfall, and gradually changing into a star shower. It displays as enlarged microscopic digital world to people. It has now become the headquarters for the Municipal Office for Information System, as well as an exhibition center for creators of digital products.  The building is situated on the Olympic Green’s west edge, north of the Water Cube. 

1.3.8        The CCTV New Tower

The headquarters for Chinese Central Television is composed of three buildings: CCTV, the Television Cultural Centre (TVCC) and the Media Park.  Rem Koolhaas won the competition for the new China Central Television headquarters (CCTV) in 2002, completed in 2008. 


Photo 15 The CCTV New Tower


1.3.9        Beijing Xihuan Plaza (Xizhimen Station)

Situated on the Second Ring Road to the northwest of Beijing, tt was designed as an important nerve centre for the city.   The French company AREP was awarded the large office complex for the northern station of Xizhimen.  It is the meeting point of the vital North Railway Station, an interchange station between principal and regional lines, with 18 public bus lines, a subway  station, and a highway terminal.  This interchange point is crossed through daily by 3 million travellers.  It also has a services and offices complex that covers an area of about 75000 M2, subdivided into a basement portion, three office towers, a hotel, a shopping mall and a restaurant, all connected to the railway station.

1.3.10    The Olympic Village

The Olympic Village is composed of two areas, i.e. the Residential Area and the International Area. The Residential  Area is located to the south of  Kehui Road, covering an area of about 35 hectares. The International Area is located in the Olympic Forest Park to the north of Kehui Road with an area of about 35 hectares. The Olympic Village is a residential area for the athletes and for local people after the Olympic Games. The International Area has been converted into a green landscape.  

2.     Urban challenges and prospects

In this chapter we have shown the development of planning within this amazing city, a city that faces the demands of being capital of the largest populated nation on earth, of being run within a socialist system, albeit one in which the market economy plays a major role, and being increasingly presented as  a New World City that is recognized across the globe.  The changes  that have occurred have taken place within a remarkably short period, and have been fundamental in range and scope.  The Beijing Olympics of 2008 were generally a superb event and marked the high level of internationalization to which the  city aspires.  The planning process has sought, not always successfully, to guide and  direct this incredible pace of change, encouraging dramatic new developments across many different parts of the city.  In this concluding section we examine some of the main challenges that remain for the next decades of the 21stCentury.

2.1        Social polarization and social injustice

Beijing is increasingly a city of great contrasts in income, with marked inequalities between different groups within the population.  For instance, under Maoism, China introduced the  Hukou registration system that entitled officially sanctioned residents to access to housing, health, food rations and other benefits.  In the Maoist period migration was tightly controlled via this system but with the introduction of the market economy rural migrants have flooded into China’s cities, including Beijing.  Known as the luidong renkou (floating population) they are ““in” the city but not “of” the  city” (Tang and Parish, 2000:  31).  Gu (2006:275) showed that there were over 1 million of these in Beijing by 1989, followed by a dip in 1990 and then a steady expansion up to 3.85 million by 2004.  These people are without  hukou registration, and are the people who often work in the construction industry, as stallholders selling a range of clothing and foods, or as taxi drivers for instance, all jobs which are highly demanding, and from which the original Beijing population have tended to move on.  “Through their visibility to tourists and outside visitors, these ‘marginal’ groups disturb the modernization  project and question Beijing’s alleged modernity, symbolically regaining their right to the city” (Broudehoux, 2004: 136).

These are the people that would be regarded as being in the informal sector, living in shanty towns in other large cities of Asia.  But these migrants do not live in shanty towns, rather they are likely to  live in crowded conditions with people from their own town or province within urban enclaves in Beijing, with over 100 migrant villages such as ‘Zhejiang Village’ for example (Gu 2006).  They face a regular threat of demolition should their dwelling-place or street location be required for urban new building, or as the authorities seek to regulate the informal system via provision of new covered markets for example, as per the Silk Markets in Jianguomenwai or Sanlitun for example.  In 2009, with the current recession, many have returned to their home villages and towns but will likely return as the economy recovers in the next few years.  When they do they will face the same issues of lack of access to schooling for their children, plus lack of “access to low-cost health services and housing, and equal employment opportunities in state-owned enterprises or foreign and joint-venture companies” (ibid.:288).  Singly, and with others, Gu has conducted a range of studies into the spatial concentration and segregation of these migrant groups, showing clearly that social polarization is a key feature of Beijing’s current situation (Chan,  Gu and Breitung 2000;  Gu  1998, 1999, 2001;  Gu and Kesteloot, 1997, 2001, 2002; Gu and Liu 2001; Gu and Shen 2003; Gu, Wang and Liu 2005).  The challenge the floating population poses is one not just for Beijing itself, but for the PRC government more generally.  

2.2        Environmental injustice

Just as there are questions of social (in)justice with which  to contend, planning also has to consider the environmental equivalents.  Over the years Beijing has had  many successes in the struggle to overcome  such environmental negatives as water shortage, air pollution, desertification or water pollution (Cook, 2007a, 2008; Murray and Cook 2002, 2004).  Massive afforestation programmes, increased use of liquid petroleum gas, restriction on trucks entering the central area during daytime, regulations to limit the use of poor quality coal and the like have increased the number of ‘blue sky days’ that the city has annually.  Greening was also a major part of the Olympics as shown above.  Nonetheless, Beijing was identified by the European Space Agency in October 2005 not just as a polluted city but as the most polluted city on earth (Cook, 2007a).  ‘Beijing throat’ is a regular threat to the visitor, and resident, and coal remains the main energy source in Beijing as it is in the rest of China. Vehicle emissions are a major contributor to this, and to a high level of respiratory disease, but vehicle growth continues to outstrip forecasts.  Even in the capital of an increasingly wealthy China, a country with the 3rd largest world economy at the time of writing, it is inadvisable to drink the tap water.

Despite optimism over tree planting, the city is still subject to periodic massive sandstorms, air pollution from industry remains a major issue, and the proposed South-North Water Transfer Scheme to help resolve water shortage in North China itself poses many ecological questions.  Wealthier residents can afford to relocate farther away from pollution sources or apply pressure on the authorities to ameliorate the worst impacts of pollution; poorer people are much more likely to have to put up with such conditions with detrimental effects on their health (Cook 2007a, 2008).

2.3        Olympic legacies

The Olympics of 2008 has left a number  of important legacies.  In terms of environmental quality there is some debate  as to just how successful they were in improving Beijing’s environment (Cook and Miles, 2010).  For instance, a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)  analysis complemented the authorities for the improvements that were made to raise the environmental bar in terms of higher

vehicle emissions standards, green space addition, millions of trees and rose bushes planted and a rise in blue sky days from 180 in 2000 to 274 in 2008.  Restrictions on vehicle use proved so effective that these have been extended for another year in the first instance (ibid.).  In  contrast, however, an analysis of particulate matter by US and Chinese scientists for an 8 week period ‘found that the level of particulate pollution was twice as bad as in Athens, Greece; three times as  bad as in Atlanta, Georgia; and 3.5 times as bad as in Sydney, Australia’ (ibid.: in press).  There is also the issue, common for other Olympic Cities of how to sustaining world classfacilities.  The superb Bird’s Nest for instance is still being paid for via loans and also has high maintenance costs.  It was thought at one  point that Beijing’s main football team, Guo An, might take over the stadium, but not only is the stadium too large for most of Guo An’s matches, there are technical restrictions and costs in providing the pitch for each game.  It now seems probably that the combined income from visitors plus cultural events will pay off the loans and ensure that the stadium is preserved for many years to come as a major venue.   

2.4        The commodification of culture

The Olympics were the latest, most grand example of how culture is being commodified in Beijing as it has been in  other world cities.  This process began some years ago, paradoxically via Mao becoming a tourist commodity via marketing of Mao caps, watches, cigarette lighters and street sales of the Little Red Book (Cook, 2008).  The hutongs similarly are often a tourist attraction, with the ‘hutong tour’ on pedicabs being a popular part of the tourist experience.   Gu Huimin and Chris Ryan (2009) have studied the impact of tourism on the largest of  the hutong protection zones,  Shichahai, based on interviews with residents and local tourism business people.  Scores on Likert-type scales identified traffic congestion as the main problem with tourism and locals tended to agree with the statement that ‘Local residents are the people who mainly suffer  from living in a tourist area’.  Many recognized that the area, via tourism, was cleaner than before, yet “48 per cent ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement that ‘I feel tourism is growing too fast for the hutong to cope with’” (ibid.:318).  Longer-term residents were likely to be more negative towards tourism developments. Hutongs are laid out along narrow lanes so it is small wonder that congestion is a potential problem for residents; but increasingly

congestion is also a problem for other tourist sites in and around Beijing, such as at

the Great Wall at Badaling for example.  Beijing is a growing cultural attraction for

people from within and outwith China, and planning will have to increasingly deal

with the issues that cultural tourism raises.

2.5        Questions of governmentality

Prior to the Olympics, concerns were raised in the West concerning the thorny question of human rights.   Tian’anmen in 1989 has proven hard for the PRC to shake off, and such issues as use of the death penalty, treatment of the Buddhist sect Falun Gong and Tibet have been controversial  for Western human rights activists (Cook, 2007b).  The Olympic Torch was attacked by Free Tibet supporters and this led to counter-protests by PRC supporters in Hong Kong and China itself (Cook and Miles, 2010).  Journalists were also concerned that  they would not be able to report freely in Beijing due to restrictions placed upon them.  In the event, there were only a few problems at the Olympics themselves, and the PRC government would defend itself against critics of its human  rights record by noting that  human rights are less than ideal in some of those countries which are most vociferous in criticism, while noting that security ensured that there were no major terrorist incidents during the Games.  Further, China is gradually developing a legal system that is increasing the level of rights of the individual and is also reducing the use of the death penalty.  China is changing, so too is the way in which it is run.

2.6        The changing planning system

The Twentieth Century witnessed many changes to the way in which Beijing was planned.  From the first faltering introduction of Western planning ideas in the early Republican period, through to Soviet  and Maoist-influenced planning and ‘anti-planning’ in the 1950s-1970s and the modern planning system established and developed since then, we have seen the  main debates and directions that have influenced the form and function of the current city.  In the Twenty-First Century many more changes will occur, some fairly predictable and others not.  But we hope that the emphasis on a more humanistic, liveable city is the one that dominates.  In order for this to occur, local people, hukou and non-hukou alike, will need to be more fully involved in planning for their own areas of residence and of helping the planners to decide between alternative models of planning development.  The seeds of such a system have already been planted via the growing number of NGOs and community groups found in China generally and Beijing specifically (Cook, 2008).  These seeds will require careful nurturing to deal with the issues of social inequality, environmental threats, periodic economic  downturns and political change that will take place in the decades to come.


Beijing, as ancient capital for six dynasties, is a city with a long history of Oriental civilization. During  the period when it was the Yuan Dadu, Beijing was the largest and best planned city in the world. The contemporary Beijing has grown into what it is now on the basis of the old city of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. After hundreds of years of development and changes, now Beijing has emerged as a mega-city with an area of 16410km2. The city is growing very rapidly with each passing day. Thanks to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing displayed the cultural heritage of the ancient capital  and the elegant charisma of the modern metropolis, it will become a Chinese socialist capital and a new world city.

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