March 1, 2008｜China
Research Fellow, Consulate-General of Japan in Shenyang
As one of the 14 bills presented at the Shenyang Municipal People’s Congress on 6 January this year, “A bill concerning the strengthening of the movement for the protection of the famous historical and cultural city of Shenyang” was submitted by a ten-person group from Heping District in Shenyang City. According to a member of the Standing Committee of the Shenyang Municipal People’s Congress, Hu Baolan, who is a member of the group: “Of the seven major historical preservation districts already designated, while a degree of protection has been accepted for the ‘Imperial Palace Fangcheng Area’ via the enactment of the law ‘One Palace and Two Tombs’ (the Shenyang Imperial Palace, Fuling Tomb and Zhaoling Tomb), there are no protection plans for the other districts, and new construction has already taken place to differing degrees and has destroyed the surroundings and look of the areas.”1
When the urban area of Shenyang—designated a “famous historic and cultural city”2 by the State Council in 1986—is divided up broadly, it comprises five areas: the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which the founder of the Qing dynasty Nurhaci undertook in the construction of his capital; the former South Manchuria Railway Zone; the former treaty port district; Beiling [Northern Tomb] (Zhaoling: the tomb of Nurhaci) and the district developed by Zhang Zuolin; and the Tiexi industrial district.3 Among these, on Zhongshan Street (former name: Naniwa Street [Naniwa-dori]), which was one of the main roads within the former South Manchuria Railway Zone, many architectural structures were built in the Western Renaissance style, which came into being as a result of a Japanized western classical style at that time.4 Today, even for a major preservation district, Zhongshan Street is said to be a relatively well-preserved street.5 If one walks along Zhongshan Street today, starting from Zhongshan Square which has been designated a provincial-level cultural relic for preservation, on the section from Zhongshan Square to Heping Avenue two-to-four-storey architectural structures which are thought to be from that time are sandwiched between relatively new buildings, and this can be seen in several places. On the section from Shenyang Station to Zhongshan Square, however, the things that give no impression of the street being preserved in its old state—except for the Qiulin Company and the former Mukden [Fengtian] Post Office, etc., which have been designated “irremovable cultural relics of Shenyang City”—and more than that assail the eye, would be the huge ten-storey-plus department store and buildings under construction.
On Zhongshan Street the construction of a “street with a European air” formally begins this year. With an aim of making more than 2,490 meters of Zhongshan Street, including the section from Shenyang Station to Zhongshan Square, an “area with a European air”, this year the initial phase of construction will commence on 600 meters thereof. It is said they will carry out restoration and improvement with a principle of maintaining the appearance of the original architecture, the promotion of investment in “European-style” restaurants and entertainment, etc., and install “European-style” streetlights, guard railings, and sculpture on the street.6 With this, in July last year, a European-style building (constructed by Japanese in the 1920s and used as a trading company), which was half-collapsed, was torn down7, and at present has been restored to its original appearance. Furthermore, according to incomplete reports, there are also plans to demolish all old, half-collapsed, two-storey buildings and build them anew,8 and in the future it will probably be necessary to give attention to how the plans will be taken forward, including the balance with the already existing high-rise buildings.
For cities with a lot of history there will be common problems regarding how a balance is struck in the preservation and redevelopment of old architectural structures in urban areas. The construction of a “street with a European air” on Zhongshan Street, in a Shenyang which is achieving rapid economic development, is at the present point in time one method likely to strike that balance. It can be said that for these modern-era buildings—which post-war for several decades were not the subjects, actively, of preservation—a new value has been found, for several reasons including the sudden rise of new industries, and changes in lifestyles, and this reevaluation can be said to give a handhold for the grasping of an awareness of the economic development and history of the city. Along with the history of which Shenyang’s modern-era architecture speaks, and the significance of its existence, I would like to continue to follow Shenyang’s new direction in development.
Present-day Zhongshan Street
(Zhongshan Square–Heping Avenue)
(This piece contains the personal views of the author, and does not represent the official position of the Japanese government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, or the Consulate-General of Japan in Shenyang.)
[Translated by ERINA]