Traditional crafts and recreated hutong alleyways demonstrate the capital’s cultural history

Beijing’s “ancient” streets, traditional handicraft workshops, and cultural centers wowed 17 online influencers from countries and regions involved in the Belt and Road Initiative during a recent media tour.

The event was launched on June 7 at the time-honored commercial street Wangfujing, where they visited the Heping Guoju, a renovated commercial block located on Wangfujing Department Store’s underground floor.

Hailing from across the world, the influencers were immediately transported back to 1980s Beijing after taking the elevator down.

The immersive block doesn’t just present diverse folk products but shows how photo studios, phone booths, snack stalls, bookstores, grocery stores, and post offices served people four decades ago.

Sugar-figure blowers, newspaper sellers, and folk craftsmen solicit business along the hutong-style lanes. Small objects that record history and memories can be spotted everywhere.

A jersey covered with the signatures of soccer stars from Beijing Guoan in 1995 attracted Ma Jianxun’s attention. As a Beijing resident born in the 1980s, he recalled his youth.

“At that time, all my friends were watching soccer games of the C League (which has been renamed the Chinese Football Association Super League). People chased star players enthusiastically and bought their calendars,” Ma said.

“To me, Guoan is my youth. To us, Guoan is Beijing,” Ma said.

In recent years, the Beijing municipal government has rolled out a series of supportive policies to renovate the city’s ancient blocks and streets, adapting them to modern needs.

Yangmeizhu Xiejie in the Dashilar area of Beijing’s Xicheng district is another key street project in the city’s renewal plan.

To better preserve the hutong architecture and serve customers’ needs at the same time, about 500 households were relocated.

Workshops and boutiques were then opened along the lane, creating an artistic atmosphere where artisans spend time on detailed designs.

Caicifang Workshop, like many other cultural shops on the street, offers people a chance to learn about Chinese porcelain and how to make derivatives from antique porcelain fragments.

The Old Beijing Rabbit Figurine store, opened by Zhang Zhongqiang, a fifth-generation heir to the art of creating clay rabbit sculptures, a symbol of happiness and good luck in the city, conveys a sense of joy to visitors.

The local government has also built cultural facilities for residents, including centers, museums and libraries to accommodate cultural relics and resources.

The Guangyi Plus Public Culture Center provides opportunities to learn about paper-cutting, Chinese calligraphy and painting. The center’s staff members also prepare food during traditional festivals to teach children how to make zongzi, dumplings and other traditional dishes.

Yann Debelle-de Montby, a French designer and collector, said at the event’s launch ceremony that he recently had an opportunity to walk through all the hutong of ancient Beijing with one of his Chinese friends. They wandered through the little narrow lanes, visited beautiful temples, spent the end of day in the gardens of the Forbidden City and enjoyed vintage Pu’er tea in teahouses.

“I found that Beijing is very inspirational and the poetry is everywhere,” he said.

Lee John Barrett is a British video maker who has 1,625,000 online followers. He has been visiting China for 14 years. One of the reasons he started to make videos is to smooth out misunderstandings between China and the West, he said.

“Through our videos, we hope we can show people what China is really like and what our life is like living here and give them a better understanding of China and the Chinese people,” he said at the event’s opening ceremony.

The Silk Road Rediscovery Tour of Beijing is a signature activity initiated by the Beijing municipal government. It has held eight sessions since 2016 and attracted about 100 foreign influencers from countries and regions involved in the BRI.

Xu Hejian, a spokesman for the Beijing government, said the capital has witnessed great changes and grown into a modern metropolis with extensive influence. It is a vivid microcosm of today’s high-quality development of China.

Fan Jianping is president and editor-in-chief of China Radio International, one of the organizers of the event. He said that through the activity, people will not only appreciate the unique charm of Beijing but learn about achievements made by the city and even the whole country over the past 100 years under the leadership of the Communist Party of China.

Fan said he hopes they will feel the real sense of happiness and gain of the people.