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  Chinese Way>Life

Online archive of old Beijing hutong at risk

2013-11-26 16:19:23

(Global Times)


Xuejiawan Hutong in Qianmen. Photo: Courtesy of Zhang Wei

The autumn weather was clear in Shichahai, in the historic old neighborhood around the Houhai historic and tourist district in the heart of Beijing. Zhang Wei stood in the crowd in front of a 130-year-old Beijing traditional restaurant, watching his skillful friends from Zhongfanhui, a performance group, who were only wearing sleeveless shirts in the November morning while doing their best to entertain their audience.

People living the big and small hutong around Shichahai, young and old, all came out to the restaurant, Baodu Zhang, to watch the free performance of traditional Beijing entertainment.

"I planned this ceremony for free, because the owner is my friend who has the same enthusiasm and dedication to old Beijing culture as me," said Zhang. "Other members of our photography group are also here, taking pictures to record and memorialize the moments of old Beijing."

Zhang runs, a website about old Beijing's culture. It started out as a photography group which specialized in old Beijing hutong, customs and traditional culture.

To help members of the group communicate and organize activities, Zhang started the website in 2000, and has been working full time on it. He said he is not a businessman, nor the owner of the website, but only a manager of the website and the leader of the guardians of old Beijing culture. It has been said that the photography group was suspended, and the website was dying and would be on sale, but Zhang denied that.

"I will not sell the website in the near future, I am hanging on, but it takes me too much energy and it is on the edge of collapse. What we are focusing is old Beijing's culture, not just the website," said Zhang. "But the website is important for us because it gathers people with the same interest and sense of responsibility to protect old Beijing culture, record and memorialize old Beijing, and call on more people to join in."

To earn money to maintain the operation of the website, Zhang now does some activity planning for businesses, and serves as an intermediary to invite performance groups to give shows at Changdian Temple Fair during the Spring Festival every year. This brings in about 20,000 yuan ($3,300) each year.

They can also get money from newspapers, magazines and libraries buying the copyright of the photos they take. This income can be 10,000 to 20,000 yuan a year.

"We need more than 100,000 yuan every year to keep the website going, and what we do to make money is always not enough by far," said Zhang, "Most money comes from me, and I am poor. I feel like I was assigned to do this by God, and I am doomed to be poor."

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