Drum and Bell Tower Neighborhood
The Drum and Bell Tower Neighborhood, or Gulou as called by foreigners living in Beijing, is one of Beijing’s most culturally and historically valuable neighborhoods. Not only is it a central area of Old Beijing, but it is also protected under the Shichahai Historical and Cultural Protection Area.
It was, and remains, a central hub of Beijing – surrounded in different directions by the Forbidden City, bustling commercial areas and residential neighborhoods – all vital aspects of traditional life.
Gulou is now one of the few surviving representations of the traditional culture of Old Beijing, as more and more significant neighbourhoods like Qianmen are demolished and disappear into the past. Gulou encompasses all the essential elements of Old Beijing, both tangible and intangible, with the Drum and Bell Towers, hutongs, courtyard houses, and, importantly, its traditional residents. Each of these characteristics make the area so culturally rich, and the Drum and Bell Towers, for example, bereft of its surrounding context – the people, the hutongs – would decrease their individual historical and cultural value.
Pressures on Gulou
Poor standard of living
While Gulou is a vital part of Old and present Beijing, it currently has clear problems that threaten its existence. The poor quality of life of the local residents is among the most important. Generally, the complaints about the quality of life in the hutongs are bad and chaotic living environment, congested traffic and intrusive tourists.
Hutongs have degenerated because the administrators and supervisors have not maintained or taken measures to look after them. To improve this situation, the residents need to be assured that their homes won’t be demolished so they have stability, and improvements can then be made. But this will be a lengthy process. Just like the old city of Beijing was not built over a few years, this area can’t be renovated in a short time – it needs to be a careful and well considered process.
Currently, there is a proposed ‘Beijing Time Cultural City’ development project for the area. According to the media, the project will potentially affect a 12.5 hectare area with the Drum and Bell Towers at its center. The proposed boundaries are: Jiugulou Dajie to the west, Dofuchi Hutong and Wangzhang Hutong to the north, Caochang Hutong to the east, and Gulou Dongdajie and Xidajie to the south. It includes the triangle at the southeast corner of the Drum Tower.
The majority of the project construction will take place underground. Above ground, the project has two main focuses: celebrating traditional time-telling and improving the quality of the residents’ lives.
CHP suggests the government cancel the Time Cultural City project and instead invest the budgeted funds in a ‘Caring for the Drum and Bell Tower’ rejuvenation project. Such a project could become a prominent model for cultural heritage protection. It would improve local living standards and civic participation, as well as become an exciting precedent for the Party and government in enjoying the gratitude of local residents.
Read more about the plan and CHP’s views on plan and proposed alternative.
CHP is working to preserve Gulou for future generations. In March, CHP organised to hold a public discussion event about the plan, but this was cancelled for various reasons.
CHP also held a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China event about Gulou. CHP’s founder and chairman, He Shuzhong, was the speaker. Read the transcript of the event.
In May, CHP publically released an article called A Better Future for Gulou. The article explains the historical context of the areas, current pressures on Gulou, further details of the planned redevelopment and explains CHP’s proposed ‘Caring for the Drum and Bell Tower Neighbourhood’ rejuvenation plan.
Through our work to preserve Gulou, CHP has partnered with several media to raise awareness on the plan, including USA Today, LA Times, Daily Telegraph, Inter Service Press, China Daily and The Beijinger (see media section below for stories).
At the moment, we are trying to create more awareness about the plan (and our proposed alternative) and continue to work closely with the media. CHP hopes that the cultural heritage of the area and lives of the residents are respected, and that Gulou will continue to be a true and authentic representation of traditional Old Beijing.
How to get involved
Not sure how you can help? There are many ways you can help CHP create an active and positive discourse about preserving Gulou. Read more about how you can get involved.
CHP articles about Gulou
Gulou in the media
【2010-4-07】Caixin Media | Planned Destruction and Redevelopment of the Historical Gulou Area (podcast)