Tucked away on the outskirts of Chaoyang district is Caochangdi (草场地), a thriving 21st-century urban village of structures built by a combination of entrepreneurial farmers, contemporary art dealers and artists. Its rugged outlook sets it apart from the vastly urbanised spatial developments occurring in China’s contemporary spaces. The Caochangdi area, a translation of 'wild grasslands', was once unoccupied grazing land used as hunting grounds by the imperial court.
1999 signified the start of Caochangdi’s art zone. In response to an increasingly commercialised and gentrified 798 Arts District, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei not only designed and established his own studio in Caochangdi, but several other complexes as well. The result was his own factory-style space 258 Fake Design studio, as well as a number of architecturally significant buildings, the most notable of which is arguably Three Shadows Photography Art Centre with its unique facade of
undulating grey brickwork. Several artists and contemporary art galleries then followed suit, and Caochangdi soon flourished into an art village. By the fall of 2008, 40 out of the 65
companies registered in the village were cultural industries.
Cut to nearly a decade later and Caochangdi’s outlook is less sunny. In recent years, rumours of Chinese authorities evicting artists and demolishing the village have been rife, culminating in the forced eviction
of X Gallery and De Sarthe Gallery last year. Despite this, Caochangdi still survives as an oasis to the arts, and is home to numerous galleries and creative spaces. In light of the changes, we recently revisited the village to explore Beijing's current state of the arts.
拆 (chai; demolish) signs graffitied on X Gallery (still undemolished ten months on).