Beijing, Jiu Xianqiao Block No.6 Central Heating


The No.6 block at Jiu Xianqiao was one of the dormitories for the 798 and other factories we wrote about in previous posts.


We walk around at a plant for the central heating of the block that was built in co-operation with the Soviet Union in the 1950s.


Every block in this neighborhood used to have its own plant with huge boilers to provide central heating. Now, 60 years later, most of them have been demolished and just a few are still in operation.


According to a worker at this plant, which belongs to a state-owned enterprise, the boilers are still in use. “It will be demolished soon”, he says.




Beijing, Jiu Xianqiao Community



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.



Other post related to the Jiu Xianqiao area are: Beijing, Role models and Beijing, East german architecture




Beijing, East german architecture


Above, a view inside an old processing plant for central heating of the neighborhood. The area was build by the East Germans in the 1950s.  The buildings in the area were the dormitories for workers at factories such as the “798” factory for electronic equipment and weapons, a few kilometers north. These days the factory area is turned into the biggest art exhibition area in Beijing called “798 Art District”. The old dormitories, though very much in decay, still have a residential use.


The combination of residential use for people with little or modest means and the East german communist architecture of the 50s creates an atmosphere that is different from other neighborhoods in Beijing.