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"Brought to You By American Express"

By:  Danica  Taylor


           In China there were endless representations of vernacular and transnational architecture. An example of this struck me while touring around the Forbidden City in Beijing. The Forbidden City was created before America was even discovered by Christopher Columbus, and was closed to the public for over 500 years. The museum displayed ways that the ancient Chinese constructed the buildings and the displayed unthinkable tools they had for hunting, building, and maintaining the palace for the royalty.  Each display had a nice sign in front of it describing the tool, or identifying which building it was and what its purpose was. But when you got to the bottom of the showcase caption, there it was, the transnational component of the ancient vernacular architecture “Made Possible by the American Express Company.” 
    If it weren’t for some American corporate sponsor there may not have been captions in English for the English speaking visitors, or who knows maybe the Chinese government would not have provided any funding for any captions. Although grateful for the captions, it was also a big slap in my face that reminded me that I was at one of the main tourist attractions in all of China.
    Another interesting connection between the vernacular architecture of the Forbidden City and Beijing’s globalized surroundings was the immense amount of construction and renovation all in result of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. My first impression after walking outside the airport was the smell, the pollution, and the advertising of the Olympics everywhere you looked.
The taxi ride from the airport to the hotel was surprising, so much construction, so much pollution, and so much dust everywhere you looked. In the article “Beijing’s Urban Makeover: the ‘hutong’ destruction” author Sean Gallagher goes far enough to describe it as “on every street corner in Beijing there is some form of demolition or construction taking place.” (Gallagher, 1). It wasn’t until the Forbidden City though that I became aware of the impact of  China’s Second Industrial Revolution” (Gallagher, 1). As we were leaving this ancient masterpiece of art and architecture we were surrounded and mobbed by men trying to persuade us to come to the area of the hutong with them. They had pamphlets and maps showing you how close the areas was from where we were now. If it were not for the Gallagher reading and discussion in class I wouldn’t have even known what the hutong was and probably would have completely disregarded the entire event. But instead, I educated those who I was traveling with and informed them the hutong were “alleyways…[and are] revered as a direct link to China’s much venerated past” (Gallaher, 1), a type of architecture that ties the previous China with the new industrialized one. The hutong are being completely evacuated all for one global, profitable event. History is being destroyed simply because the Communist government owns all of the property in China, “subsequently allowing for the continued abuse by contractors to demolish and clear hutongs virtually unopposed” (Gallagher, 1).
Transnational corporations are profiting prolifically from their desire to build and renovate Beijing’s downtown area, to impress and accommodate all the tourists, companies, athletes, and media who will be arriving in Beijing in 2008.
    It was a strange connection walking out of the Forbidden City, a vernacular masterpiece that was closed to the public for over 500 years, and walking into a global city being completely renovated and watching history be destructed before your eyes, all for desire to become global and to be seen from around the world as a desirable and glorified city to visit. I think that the Gallagher article encouraged readers to take a closer look at the situation and to realize the severity of this problem. It’s not just that they’re tearing town history, they’re tearing down people’s homes and leaving them with no where else to go besides the streets. There is a serious moral issue which lies underneath all the profit and media attention Beijing will be receiving in the upcoming years.

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