Bohemian Artist cover

What’s Next for China’s Once-Thriving Artist Communes?

Contemporary art battles to find a place to grow in the face of regulations and rising property prices

About an hour’s drive to the east of Beijing, the village of Beisizhuang bears little resemblance to the bustling skyscrapers of the city. Tangles of cables hang low across narrow alleyways of gray brick walls, and there is little sound aside from swallows chirping and bees browsing plots of vegetables.

But this, and several other villages in the township of Songzhuang, are the site of a last stand. Located on Beijing’s far eastern outskirts, adjacent to the province of Hebei, the township was at one time part of a proud tradition of avant-garde artist communes—places where contemporary artists could find cheap accommodation and develop their creative niches in social freedom and rebellion. But as regulation and gentrification have tamed China’s wider contemporary art world, so are these communities becoming tamed too.

That the village will be redeveloped is “everyone’s biggest worry right now,” artist Song Yonghong, a veteran painter and a former art teacher, tells TWOC in his high-ceilinged studio within Beisizhuang. In 2015, Beijing’s municipal government announced it would relocate to Tongzhou district, about five kilometers away from Beisizhuang. The move officially began in January 2019.

This is subscriber exclusive content

Become a subscriber to continue reading

What’s Next for China’s Once-Thriving Artist Communes? is a story from our issue, “Call of the Wild.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Alex Colville

Alex Colville is the former culture editor at The World of Chinese. Blown to China by the tides of curiosity, then marooned here by the squalls of Covid, Alex used to write for 1843, The Economist, and the Spectator from the confines of a cold London flat. When he’s not writing for TWOC, he can be found researching his bi-weekly column for SupChina from the confines of his freezing Beijing hutong.

Related Articles