Preserving cultural and historical value of factory life

Hangzhou tackles dilemma of what to do with old, abandoned factories by turning them into cultural heritage sites.

In the 19th and 20th century, industrialization and the factory dominated the lives of the working class. People worked in the factory, housing was provided by the factory and children of the workers attended the same nurseries and elementary schools delivered by the factory.

Now, in the 21st century, these heavy industries no longer dominate the lives of ordinary working folk in the way they did previously. Many factories are no longer in the city and have relocated to rural areas or less developed provinces. The now vacant factories in downtown areas have become something of a dilemma for local authorities.

But, rather than raze the buildings to the ground and prepare for the construction of new desirable real estate, Hangzhou realizes the historical value of these cultural industrial remains and wants to preserve them.

In 2007, the city planning bureau made a list of industrial heritage sites after a head-to-toe investigation in town. Three years later, a regulation was released clarifying measures on how to protect these sites and the duties of certain governmental departments.

A great part of these industrial buildings were transformed into start-up communities, leisure facilities, museums and cultural parks.

Former factory of the Hangyang Group

Many people may not be aware that the present four craftsmanship museums: Hangzhou Arts and Crafts Museum, China Fan Museum, China Knives, Scissors and Swords Museum, and China Umbrella Museum, along the Grand Canal were formerly a food company warehouse, a cotton mill and a silk factory.

Occupying an area of 40,000 square meters in total, the museums are now part of the L-shaped Qiaoxi Historical Neighborhood, which has included traditional resident houses, temples, as well as cafes, restaurants, a crafts shop and a traditional Chinese medicine experience center at Fang Hui Chun Tang.

Dongxin Road is another place that evokes memories of factory life. The Hangzhou Boiler Group Co Ltd was once the resident of 245 Dongxin Road. The adjacent area used to be the former factory of the Hangyang Group, which produces oxygen generators and other large iron equipment.

Both companies were established in the 1950s and people were proud to work in those factories at the time. These were businesses of prestige in the community.

The Hangyang Group also had their own in-factory railroad to transport raw material in and out of the production departments. The Hungarian-made locomotive was introduced between 1960s and 1980s and could pull up to five coaches of freight.

In 2008, the Hangyang Group relocated to the more rural Lin’an District. In 2013, Hangzhou Boiler Group was the last factory to move out of downtown Hangzhou.

But the plane trees that were planted 50 years ago, the locomotive, and nine production plants spanning an area of over 100,000 square meters still remain.

Even the gypsum molds of arhat statues have remained intact. Back in 1996, Hangyang was invited to produce 100 sitting arhats for the Lingyin Temple. Now these abandoned statues have become the subject of many professional photographers.

2017 Asia Design Management Forum and Festival was held in the former factories of the Hangzhou Boiler Group.

In 2009, the city government initiated a transformation project on the original factories of Hangzhou Boiler and Hangyang Group. The project was called “The Metropolitan Time,” which was a complex comprising of museums, theaters, hotels and office buildings.

There have already been exhibitions and performances held in these factory houses.

Since 2015, the Asia Design Management Forum and Festival has been held in the Hangzhou Boiler factories. This year the festival attracted over 100,000 visitors in 11 days with more than 200 exhibitors featuring themes of design, gourmet, art and new lifestyle.

“Fuerza Bruta,” a global touring immersive theater show, was introduced in 2014 and staged in one of the factory houses.

Earlier this year, operator of “The Metropolitan Time” project inked an agreement with the Nederlander Organization, an American theater production company. In the future more Broadway and off-Broadway shows will be seen in this unique venue of Hangzhou.

Windows of the former factory of Hangzhou Boiler Group

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