A former equipment factory complex constructed in a Bauhaus style by a Chinese-German-Russian team led by East German architects and engineers in the 1950s, 798 Art Zone (Qījiǔbā Yìshùqū, 798艺术区) is now home to Beijing's best-known contemporary art community. It is also known as 798 Art District, Factory 798 and Dashanzhi Art District.
In the last decade, the area has seen artists and arts organizations colonize the plants—vacated in the 1980s as China moved away from State Operated Enterprises—and transform them into today's creative spaces.
798 Art Zone is now so large at 230,000 sq m (57 acres) that it's become a neighborhood unto itself with lively streets, cafés, restaurants, shops, theaters, outdoor sculptures, installations, visual media and, of course, a huge number of galleries and studios. You can easily spend a day exploring the place and not see everything.
Most visitors make a nice afternoon excursion out of it, including a relaxing brunch or lunch with plenty of time to wander about.
798 has come to compete with art districts you might find in New York, London, Paris or Berlin, though the quality and content of the art itself may strike international visitors as inconsistent and occasionally derivative. And, as it goes from edgy to established, the exciting feeling of a neighborhood populated by risk-taking urban artist-pioneers has given way to a more self-conscious commercial opportunism, as younger emerging artists have set up shop in less trendy—and therefore less expensive—areas of the city.
Regardless, a visit to early 21st century Beijing is not complete without a visit to 798 Art Zone, which still can provide the kinds of insights into the new China that first-time visitors can't get from focusing only on Beijing's historic relics.
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