Chongqing turns old factories into fashion and arts centers

Municipality leaps from manufacturing to creative industry

○ Chongqing, a former military industrial base, used to be home to hundreds of arsenals and factories

○ Caves and buildings once used for arsenal production are now being turned into fashion and art centers or cultural museums

○ People are becoming more aware of Chongqing’s powerful industrial past

A bookstore transformed out of an old factory in Chongqing.

Fan Jianchuan still remembers the first time he saw the former Chongqing Jianshe Machine Tool Factory in 2016. Located in a maze of caves in a hillside near the Yangtze River, garbage piled up in the caves, and mosquitoes bred in the sewage. “It was terrible,” he recalled.

The factory, formerly called the Hanyang Arsenal, was one of over 200 that relocated to Chongqing in the late 1930s during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), after major industrial cities such as Shanghai, Changsha and Wuhan fell to Japanese invaders. By the early 1940s, Mountain City was turned into a military industrial base.

Like many arsenals in Chongqing at that time, the factory was hidden in caves in order to guard against Japanese bombing. 107 caves with a total area of over 20,000 square-meters were carved out of a hillside. The weaponry and firepower produced in these cave factories became a literal lifeline to China’s resistance against the Japanese aggression.

In 2002, after Jianshe Machine Tool Factory relocated, the caves became idle. Nearly half of the caves were destroyed during the ensuing real estate development of the hill. Today, only 50 caves remain, many filled with construction debris.

Fan, the founder of the Jianchuan Museum Cluster in the neighboring Sichuan Province, is now cooperating with Chongqing’s Jiulongpo district government to turn the former factory cave into a museum.

Elsewhere in Chongqing, different projects are also being carried out to memorialize, protect and utilize the city’s industrial legacies, which are sinking into oblivion as the city bids farewell to its industrial past.

Industrial past

According to historical records, prior to China’s victory in 1945, there were 27 arsenals across parts of country under Kuomintang rule, with 17 of them in Chongqing. All the the bigger arsenals, each with a workforce of 5,000, were in Chongqing.

Most of these caves were arched, with a width of 5 meters, a depth of around 10 meters and a height of 4 meters. Some of the caves were internally connected so as to facilitate the delivery of materials and machinery.

“Chisel marks can still be seen on the wall of the caves, showing the urgency and difficulty of the condition of weaponry manufacturing at the time,” Xu Feng (pseudonym), a researcher of Chongqing’s industrial legacy, told

Cave factories are among the 60 relics of Chongqing’s industrial past that have survived wars, and more recently and even more detrimentally, the real estate boom. Most are either located in Chongqing’s old city center, built along the Sichuan-Guizhou railway or along the Yangtze River and its tributary, the Jialing River.

Tens of thousands of workers used to live and work in the old Hualongqiao factory zone, located near the Jialing, during its peak. One of the biggest factories in the zone was Chongqing Micromotor Factory, relocated from Nanjing, capital of the Kuomintang government during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression.

During its peak, Chongqing Micromotor, which produced radios and hand-cranked generators, had over 3,000 workers. The factory went bankrupt in 2004 and was later demolished.

In addition to the relocation of factories during the war, another wave of factory relocation to Chongqing occurred in the 1960s, during the “Construction of the Third Front,” a massive State campaign to boost national defense, transportation and industries in China’s remote regions. All of those factories were State-owned.

“Compared with other cities, Chongqing had better industrial resources,” said Tian Qi, an architecture lecturer at Chongqing University.

The glory of these factories lasted until the 1980s. Starting in the 1990s, as State-owned factories went through reforms, many factories either moved or folded, leaving the buildings vacant. Many of these old factory buildings were then demolished to make way for new real estate projects. Some still sit idle.

A cave arsenal in Chongqing

Modern transformation

Today, not a single trace of the former factory zone can be found in Hualongqiao. The area is now home to Chongqing Tiandi, one of the hottest fashion, shopping and entertainment centers in Chongqing, developed by a Hong Kong real estate company.

In 2016, photographer Wang Yuanling and his team launched a photo exhibition at Chongqing Art Museum entitled “Hello, Hualongqiao.” The exhibition featured over 400 old photos of the district’s industrial past, hoping to revive local memories of their city’s history.

But some factory relics managed to blend successfully into the city’s urban area through redevelopment. Li Jun, a girl who lives in a new apartment complex in Hualongqiao, often visits Eling Factory in Yuzhong district and the Northern Warehouse in Jiangbei district, both of which are now popular shopping areas redeveloped out of old factory buildings, which give it a vintage look.

The Eling Factory, located by the Eling mountain along the Yangtze River, used to be a paper money printing factory during the Kuomintang era, but was later transformed into Chongqing No.2 Printing Factory in the 1970s.

After the factory moved away in 2013, designer Li Bo rented the building and transformed it into a culture and creativity district, much like Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, attracting many young artists and entrepreneurs to move in.

After the success of Eling redevelopment, in 2016 Li rented the Northern Warehouse, a derelict structure in the Guanyinqiao commercial zone, turning it into a fashionable area with cafes, bookstores, restaurants and designer studios.

Construction is now in full swing in the caves of Jianshe factory. Fan visit the caves each week to supervise his museum project, which will be completed by 2018.

Increasing awareness

He Zhiya, former chairman of Chongqing Yufu Assets Management Group, which helps reform old factories while preserving their cultural integrity, has visited the UK many times to study how that country protects its old factory buildings.

“There are still many old factories in the UK, and they’ve been working on their redevelopment for decades. In this aspect, China is lagging 30 years behind,” he said.

In 2006, after the Chongqing Iron and Steel Company, whose history can be traced back to the late Qing Dynasty, planned to move out of Chongqing’s Dadukou district, he managed to persuade the local government to preserve 60 acres of the old factory zone and turn it into Chongqing’s Industrial Culture Expo Park. The project is still under construction and will be completed in three to four years.

China’s research into industrial legacy started in 2006, after the International Council on Monuments and Sites held the Joint Celebration and Forum on the Industrial Heritage in Wuxi, China’s Jiangsu Province.

In 2010, an academic committee on industrial architecture and heritage was established in Tsinghua University. In the first symposium held by the committee, experts published the Beijing Declaration calling for local governments to issue laws and regulations to protect industrial heritage in Chinese cities, which were in danger of being demolished by real estate developers.

He said Fan Jianchuan’s museum project and the successful transformation of Eling Factory and the Northern Warehouse have helped more people become aware of Chongqing’s powerful industrial past. As a result, a new wave of protecting and utilizing Chongqing’s old factory relics is now in full swing.

Even the local government, which usually opts for flashy real estate projects, has taken notice of the trend. According to Chongqing Urban Planning Bureau, it has made a thorough examination of all the industrial relics in Chongqing and has begun work on special projects that will ensure their protection.

Li Bo, director of the cultural bureau at Shapingba district, said the government has built a creative zone in the former Chongqing Sewing Machine Factory that moved there during the “Construction of the Third Front.”

“In the UK, many old factories have been idle for decades, and their development is very slow,” He Zhiya said. “In China, however, once a factory is closed, it will immediately be redeveloped or turned into some real estate project.”

“Redevelopment of old factory buildings shouldn’t be too hasty. They can remain idle until conditions such as transportation and the market matures,” he said.

By Source: Global Times Published: 2017/11/7