Bell Tolls for Hutongs? (click
woman loses fight for home - A well-known Chinese activist has
lost her six-year battle to save her traditional-style Beijing
home from demolition.
Nov. 21, 2008)
Memories of Hutong Remain Alive in
Kuang's Pencil Drawings
Daily December 21, 2005)
It was once a
common scene in Beijing to see residents queuing in line to buy
Chinese cabbages, one of the few vegetables available in winter.
Greengrocers helped people load their tricycle trailers with
piles of cabbages.
Beijingers have to store cabbages nowadays. Locals have a
variety of choices of fruits, vegetables and other foods both in
open markets and in the supermarket.
can still see such vegetable stalls along the narrow alleyways (hutong)
of Beijing. Alternatively you could recreate these images from
past lifestyles through Kuang Han's pencil drawings.
In one of
his works, Kuang depicts several residents waiting aside a
cabbage stall on Caishikou Street. Paying attention to small
details one can see a board in the painting reading 0.12 yuan
per jin (3 cents per kilogram).
solo exhibition, running permanently at the Wan Fung Art Gallery
in downtown Beijing, Kuang presented nearly 30 such pencil
drawings depicting the daily life in ancient hutong.
exhibition, entitled "Preserving hutong," is the second of its
kind after a previous series along the same theme in 2002.
past decade, Kuang has been dedicated to holding people's
memories of the vanishing hutong by taking photos and producing
drawings offer the audience the chance to get an insight into
hutong by selecting those most representative of those from past
In a novel
way, his art works attract eyes not through rich colors, but
through broad-line pencil sketching.
years fewer painters would use solely pencil sketches in their
artistic creations, since the art form arguably looks less
attractive when compared to colored works. But in the eyes of
Kuang Han, pencil is the best expression of the antique hutong
and the life they contain inside.
lines do not mean a monotonous content. We know that Chinese
paintings normally apply few colors to demonstrate unlimited
themes. So it is similar with my pencil drawings," said Kuang.
plain and similar way, pencil brings out the very graceful side
and the cultural spirit of the hutong," Kuang said.
usually devotes his efforts to completing the delicate and
expressive outline of every piece. He likes to adopt heavy lines
to present a rhythmic contrast between light and shade.
perhaps not glamorous, his paintings generally take on a pure
appearance of black, white and grey against the dull yellow
background, and reveal a beauty of old times.
"It is a
beauty not belonging to pure nature, but to the realistic life,
through which I'd like to communicate with the audience the
wisdom of our ancestors," Kuang said.
pencil drawings tend to lead you into a world of hutong filled
with hustle and bustle.
sun casts its light on mottled walls through grape vines. On
thick trees hang several bird-cages and embroidered bed sheets.
Small paper ads cover tightly closed wooden doors. Big Chinese
characters saying the word "chai" are seen in a white circle on
the wall representing the up-coming end of another period of old
only presents his audience with artistic pleasure, but also
expresses nostalgia for a time he experienced and treasures.
Jiangxi Province, Kuang came to Beijing in the late 1980s after
graduating from university. He lived in a single-storey,
courtyard house (siheyuan) in the Beixin Hutong in the
following seven years, and developed a strong fondness of the
diverse life that exists in those historical alleyways.
used to be six or more families sharing a siheyuan (enclosed
courtyard) at that time. We often sat by a stone round table in
the courtyard, chatting, appreciating the moon, and dining. It
felt so quiet and peaceful. Though sometimes, you had to deal
with naughty children playing and running from one household to
another," Kuang recalled.
sweet memories reappeared in his mind so many times after he
moved into a multi-storey block of flats, and he felt hurt by
the demolition of so many hutong in order to give way to
true that people may lead an inconvenient life in hutong. But I
find it difficult to dismiss these houses and communities from
my heart. The hutong is from where Beijing grew and where its
roots are," he said.
made countless trips to almost every hutong and has collected
nearly 5,000 photos.
drawing I usually sit in a corner with the canvas in my hand
listening to the shout of things like "Potatoes on sale" or
"Beers and erguotou (a kind of Beijing liquor)" from
deep inside the alleyway. It is so enjoyable for me," he said.
would sometimes receive phones calls from visitors to his
exhibitions, who are pleased to have found the exact hutong
depicted in one of his pencil series.