Beijing 2006 - In with the new (2)

Marjolein Katsma

Groningen, Netherlands

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Wall Art


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Share this page Photo © 2006 Marjolein Katsma | Text © 2012 Marjolein Katsma

This is part of the second series of Beijing 2006 – The hutong photos; see my journal posts Beijing 2006 – The hutong and Beijing 2006: Out with the old, in with the new for the background of this series.

See the location on a satellite map (Google’s street map doesn’t register with the satellite view!)

Tags for this photograph:
beijing, china, hutong, urban renewal, urban planning, market street, diagonal street, tiān qiáo shì chăng xié jiē, tian qiao shi chang xie jie, tianqiao shichang diagonal street, tianqiao shichang byway, xié jiē, xie jie, wide market street, tianqiao wide market shortcut street, street names

Another interesting example of urban renewal in Beijing – but for me it turned into something else as well: an exploration of street names.

About the Architecture

This unusual curved street is West of the north end of the Temple of Heaven Park – its curve more or less mirroring that of the North West boundary of the park. It cuts more or less diagonally through a rectangular city block, which going by the satellite image looks like it is an urban renewal project replacing a whole block of hutong. To the North of this block there is still a hutong area, and farther west we find the obviously much older hutong replacement of the previous image.

How much newer? Not being all that familiar with Chinese architecture, it’s hard to tell, but there are a few ‘relative’ clues. Older than the brick architecture in the previous image, that is certain. It also looks newer than the rather blocky 1950s block (which itself looks newer than the brick buildings) on the corner of Wanming Road and Yong’an Road. And though the whole block looks rather shiny and well-maintained (freshly-painted even), if we look closely we can see lots of small adaptations which break what at first sight seems symmetry: some windows have a frame added around them while most do not, some windows have guard rail added to them while others (at the same height) do not, and so on. Also many apartments seem to have air conditioning added – in a building that clearly was not designed for that, even as an option. (Many newer buildings include ledges for optional air conditioners.) So my guess was this block was built around 1970s or 1980s – my source thinks they’re probably late 1980s or early 1990s: close enough.

Given the scale and bold lines of the whole project I’ll also hazard a guess that this was not one of the projects intended for the original inhabitants to return to – if there were original inhabitants, they were likely displaced to one of the new projects in the suburbs, enjoying larger floor space, and more green and fresh air, but at the same time missing the conveniences and atmosphere of the old neighborhood – whether the result is positive or negative depends on many factors, and individuals…

We’re standing at the South end of the street here, and while the trees lining the street seem rather young (2006), on the satellite picture (2012) they seem to have disappeared, including the rows of parked cars lining the street: it looks like it has been turned into a pedestrian area with a parking lot at the little square at the north end of the street. All along the blocks on both sides, there are stores at street level – which brings us to the name of the street: tiān qiáo shì chăng xié jiē (in pinyin) which on the Google Map is semi-translated as “Tianqiao Shichang byway”.

About the street name:

Let’s pick that name apart:

Tiānqiáo, according to my dictionary, is a ‘subdistrict’ in Beijing, formerly a center of folk culture. That fits, as there are quite a few things in that area referring to that, such as the Tiānqiáo theater, Tiānqiáo Citizens Square, and also a Tiānqiáo Police Station and a Tiānqiáo Hospital. Literally, ‘tiān qiáo’ means overhead walkway, or pedestrian bridge, and on the map we also see an ‘Overbridge Hostel’.

The next bit of the street name is Shichang (shì chăng), where shì means ‘market’ which we find in the names of other shop-lined streets as well, such as zhū băo shì jiē. Here, the ‘shì’ is accompanied by ‘chăng’ which means ‘large place used for a specific purpose, open space, place’; the street is indeed wide, so we could interpret that as ‘wide market’ (street).

That leaves the last part of the street name: ‘xié jiē’. On Google maps we find this (nearly) consistently translated as ‘byway’. While English isn’t my native language, I always had an understanding of this term as (approximately) ‘secondary road’. But this doesn’t look like a secondary road at all – so I looked up the meaning of ‘byway’ and found:

  • a little traveled side road; and
  • a road or path other than the main one

That doesn’t fit this street at all, nor does it fit the other ones I found. For instance we’ve already seen two shots taken along what Google calls ‘Tieshu byway’. The ‘Tieshu’ part of the name is explained on the page for the first shot – but is it a ‘byway’? Just as the street in the current image, it doesn’t seem to be – on the contrary, Tiĕshù xié jiē is an important (not ‘secondary’) road in this hutong area, cutting diagonally across roughly South-West to North-East (in many cases forming a shortcut to quickly get to Qianmen Street). One block of houses to the North along part of ‘Tieshu byway’ is (what Google calls) ‘Yingtao byway’ (yīng táo xié jiē – ‘yīng táo’ means ‘cherry (tree)’) which mostly runs parallel to it; while it’s not all that much narrower (if at all) than ‘Tieshu byway’, it could be called a ‘byway’ because it doesn’t serve as a through road as conveniently as ‘Tieshu byway’ does – but it is equally diagonal in a street pattern that in the hutong (and most of Beijing) is largely rectangular. And a bit farther Sout-East of ‘Tieshu byway’ we also find ‘Zongshu bypass’ (zōng shù xié jiē – zōng shù means ‘palm tree’) which makes us wonder why Google calls this (equally diagonal street) ‘bypass’ instead of ‘byway’; what is more, it also seems to be a convenient South-West to North-East shortcut through this hutong area. Finally, two blocks North of ‘Tieshu byway’ we find ‘Yangmeizhu byway’ (yáng méi zhú – yáng méi means ‘read bayberry’ (Myrica rubra) and zhú means ‘bamboo’) which doesn’t look all that secondary either, and runs almost as diagonally as ‘Tieshu byway’.

So, is a ‘xié jiē’ really a ‘byway’ or even a ‘bypass’? – I think not. I think what really matters is that these roads seem to be shortcuts going diagonally (more or less) through a largely rectangular city block. Well, ‘jiē’ means street – guess what ‘xié’ means? ‘inclined, slanting, oblique, tilting’ says my dictionary… My conclusion is that ‘xié jiē’ is not a ‘byway’ or ‘bypass’ at all, but a (more or less) diagonal street that forms a shortcut through an otherwise (mostly) rectangular city block.

So I think this is really “Tiānqiáo wide market shortcut street” or “Tiānqiáo wide market diagonal street”.

Camera: Fuji Finepix F30

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