Chongdeli: the Return of an Artist and His Spiritual Home

Authors: Go Chengdu

2015-01-02

Wang Hai thinks he has finally found a sense of belonging when he is looking at the newly reconstructed Chongdeli Community — he spent two years, as the designer and supervisor of the project, to make it into the present state.
"I was born in Chengdu and I belong to this city," said Wang Hai, "and all the effort pays off when I see the reconstructed community. It gives me the sense of belonging."
Wang, 59 years old and now lives in Hong Kong, said he often felt perplexed and his anxiety increased every time he came back to his hometown. Skyscrapers mushroomed and old constructions were pulled down to make room for new roads, commercial complexes and modern residential communities, which had made the city "so unrecognizable". What worried him is that "the history is broken" and people no longer have a real life in a place where "memory is lost".
Wang Hai, desinger of Chongdeli Community
Wang graduated from Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 1982 and then moved to Hong Kong in 1988. He has been living in Hong Kong for over 20 years as a renowned artist. "As I grow older, I become more nostalgic for the good old days, the time I had my childhood and youth in this city, but the rapid growth of Chengdu makes the city unfamiliar to me," Wang said. He determined that he must do something that could bring back his memory of the city.
In 2012, he decided to start the project of the reconstruction of Chongdeli Community in eastern downtown Chengdu, next to Tangpa Street by the Jinjiang River and not far from the Shangri-La Hotel Chengdu, after a long-time study of the location.
By that time, the location teemed with disheveled buildings — beat-up wood and brick houses and old courtyards — that people found it not agreeable for living. In fact, most people had moved out of the place to live in the elevator-equipped high-rises. But Wang was so satisfied that he had at last found the scene where he could make his dream come true.
A complete reconstruction of the site soon took place, with the help of Wang's friend, Du Bing, a successful businessman, and a team of masons, carpenters, plumbers, roof repairers, white washers and so on. Wang was such a perfectionist designer and a strict and sometimes tyrannical supervisor that he took pains to consider every detail of the project, and even once came to blows with a carpenter, who failed to meet the standards but refused to make change in his operation.
"To keep the history intact, and that's my mission," said Wang, "I hate to be condemned for what I have done."
And so he did whatever he could to keep the original look of the community — even that was extraordinarily expensive.
"To replace the damaged or rotten parts is usually much cheaper than to repair them, but I feel proud that we tried our best to do the repair, rather than just having something new to replace the original. The tiles, the bricks and the beams, all old styles," said Du Bing, "everything that reminds people of the old Chengdu remains the same as before. That is the true Chengdu."
The reconstructed Chongdeli Community, with an area of about 900 sq.m and a construction area of 1, 100 sq.m, has emerged as a unique showcase of the old Chengdu life and a popular site for the gatherings of local literati and artists, as well as a tourist destination and a venue for the parties of young white collars.
"The reconstructed Chongdeli stands there, not only to remind me of the memory of the past, but to keep alive a piece of history — once it is gone, it is gone forever," Wang noted.

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