The Jiu Xianqiao residential area is different in architecture and atmosphere from any other area I know in Beijing. The architectural style is European, the buildings are just 3 stories high, there’s a lot of open space between the buildings and the area is covered with tall trees providing a comfortable shadow in the summer. Not knowing anything of its background, at a first visit this area gives you, despite its obvious state of decay, feelings of nostalgia.
We talked with a few residents and with the deputy secretary of the Jiu Xianqiao Community Service, Mrs. Gao. The photos presented here are taken in the spring and autumn of 2011.
The Jiu Xianqiao area consist of several blocks and were all designed by European architects in the 1950s. Some blocks were built by the East-Germans, other blocks by the Russians. The apartment buildings served as dormitories for workers at factories in the 718 compound (aka “Joint Factory 718”) and the 506 compound. The now famous 798 Art District used to be one of the factory areas that belonged to the 718 compound and had a focus on the production of electronic equipment.
The name “Joint Factory” refers an initial co-operation with the Soviet Union to set-up factories as part of the first five year plan of the PRC. When the Russians lost interest, the East-Germans came in to help the Chinese to set-up the factory area.
We are visiting the No.4 Jiu Xianqiao block that was built in 1956. Over the years the dormitories have been converted into apartments. According to residents, the dormitories were built to last 12 years. However, almost 60 years later, the buildings are still in use without any substantial renovation.
Five units are still sharing one bathroom together. Plaster is falling off the wall and broken windows are not being replaced. In short: the residents are angry and complain a lot about the poor living conditions. Three years ago, the government was planning to rebuild the buildings with a contribution from every household. But most residents could not afford to contribute the required funds. Thus, the plan failed eventually and nobody knows what is going to happen in the future.
The Community Service is a rather independent organization, whose aim it is to serve people. They are located just across street in a renovated, red painted, building of another block. According to Mrs. Gao, they are mainly in charge of solving problems among residents, providing help to the needy and organizing activities for retired people, such as sports games and activities for making handicrafts. She did not wish to be photographed but shows us some of the handicrafts made by senior residents and talks with enthusiasm about the activities organized for the neighborhood. Mrs. Gao, acknowledges the poor condition of the area but also does not know if and when improvements will be made.