Source: SCMP (3/23/17)
Demolishing Dalian: China’s ‘Russian’ city is erasing its heritage – in pictures
Founded by the Russians, Dalian boasts a wealth of architectural history. But now its treasured buildings are marked for demolition – and the government is being sued. One student went to capture the area before it disappear.
By Francesca Perry
Sitting on the Liaodong Peninsula in north-east China, the second-tier city of Dalian has a complex history. Transformed in 1898 from a small fishing village into a major port city under Russian rule, Dalian passed into Japanese hands in the 1930s before falling under Soviet control after the second world war. In 1950, the USSR handed the city over to the Chinese government.
Dalian’s cityscape reflects this history, with Japanese and Russian architecture surrounded by gleaming new commercial skyscrapers. One of the most famous examples is Russian Street, originally called Engineer Street.
The oldest street in Dalian, it boasts buildings built by the Russians in the early 20th century. By the mid-1990s, many had fallen into disrepair, and city mayor at the time, Bo Xilai, decided to carefully renovate the remaining structures, adding new ones built in a similar style. He also renamed it Russian Street.
Although Bo Xilai later went to prison on charges of corruption, locals remember the positive impact he had on the city. “When [he] was mayor, Dalian experienced its fastest development,” explains Grace Cong, a student and childhood resident. “As a result of this, Dalian attracted more tourists than ever, and became known as ‘the city of romance’. I think that was the only time Dalian nearly became a ‘top-tier’ city.”
In 2006, Dalian was named China’s most liveable city. But residents and visitors alike feel its star has since faded. “Subsequent mayors did not care about the city in the same way as Bo Xilai,” adds Grace. “Now, Dalian can hardly attract as many people as before, and it’s just a normal city, nothing special.”
Last summer, Kaifeng-born student YiJing Liu went to Dalian and set out to photograph its unique historic streets. “I was shocked to see the beautiful and historic buildings were covered with blue steel hoardings,” she recalls. “There were signs on them saying ‘demolition’. Standing on the empty streets and looking further, I saw skyscrapers just like anywhere else. I thought these old houses and streets were something special in this city, but they were dying.”
Last November, the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) sued the city government in an effort to protect this network of historic streets. A month earlier it has been announced that a reconstruction project would transform the area into a high-end commercial and business district. The move is a familiar one in Chinese cities: according to a heritage survey conducted between 2007 and 2011, around 44,000 heritage sites in China had been demolished since the 1980s.
Liu shared her melancholic images of the area on Instagram (@greeninglew). Follow @guardiancities on Instagram and tag your pictures of Chinese cities often overlooked by international media with #OtherChina – and the rest of your best city shots with #guardiancities.