Beijing might not be the first place you think of as an art haven, but the 798 Art Zone has a special history. The name comes from the old Chinese factory-naming system; from the ’50s to the ’80s, northeast Beijing was part of the Dashanzi factory complex, producing electronics and military equipment in cooperation with Russians and East Germans. However, by the late 1980s government support dried up and it was abandoned.
This created a perfect confluence of events for artists in Beijing, looking for a large space for work and display of their art. Slowly, the entire area became an artist haven and drew more and more artists, photographers, painters, sculptors, and restaurants. Now, you can spend half your day walking around a great part of town! It is overflowing with murals on the walls, sculptures, and free galleries that you can appreciate even if you typically don’t like art. (Most galleries are free to enter, and make money through donors, purchases, and special shows and corporate events.)
Getting to and Around the 798 Art Zone
Unlike many other attractions in Beijing, the 798 Art Zone does not have direct public transportation stops there. However, you can take the subway to Wangjing South on Line 14 (B2 Exit). You can also take buses. 401 and 403 will take you to DaShanZi LuKou. Just be aware that you will have to change buses!
The area itself is pretty big. It is 148 acres (0.6km2) and divided into several sections, conveniently named A-F. When you walk in, you should be able to see maps around the area to help guide you. This is particularly useful because the area is so big and dense. As of early 2017, bikes (particularly the bike shares prevalent throughout China) are prohibited. You will see a huge pile of bikes at one of the entrances of the 798 Art Zone that probably will never be depleted. You will have to walk, and only use bikes after you have left the zone. I spent about 2 hours here, and got enough of a gist of it before sitting down to eat lunch.
Download the App!
Fitting with China’s obsession with mobile, the 798 Art Zone has an app: 798arts! It provides a pretty detailed guide to the entire area, which includes GPS navigation, suggestions of where to shop and get information, and a QR code scanner. The best part is that it has English! English is relatively prevalent in the area, but this is definitely icing on the cake. The only drawback is that, after I downloaded the app, I was only able to open it. It never got past the “updating” or “loading” screens, so it wasn’t much help to me.
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The Galleries in the 798 Art Zone
If you take the bus or the subway, you’ll be able to enter the 798 Art Zone through the street where sections A and B touch. That road is littered with free galleries that can provide cover for you if you visit in the winter or summer (harsh cold or heat). You will also be able to enjoy a lot of art for free! On both sides of the street will be all different types of galleries. They are primarily by Chinese artists, some of who are inspired by other cultures. It reminded me a little bit of walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which has a plethora of different types of art, including the modern piece above.
A portion of the exhibits are temporary, and include artworks by students. A good portion of the artworks have descriptions only in Chinese, but you should see several with introductions and names in English! Either way, you can appreciate the visuals. Many places will sell a variety of pieces. They’re expensive, but if you’re looking to brighten up your place this is a premium place to go!
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The Murals and Graffiti in the 798 Art Zone
Other than the awesome coffee shops and formal galleries, the part of the 798 Art District that stands out the most is the graffiti. You won’t see anything like this anywhere else, and the colors and patterns really brighten up the bland walls!
The busiest times of the district are during the summer (especially when there’s good weather) and, of course, on weekends. While there are benefits to visiting then, the 798 Art Zone isn’t somewhere that necessitates that. You can go as long as there is daylight! Visiting on off hours and off season (like I did on a Wednesday in December) means you’ll get great photos.
This is especially true of many of the murals. They’re rather large, so fewer people means lower chances of someone walking in front of your camera right before you take a shot. Note that some people will look directly at you and your camera, and walk in front of you anyway.
I LOVE These
Even though it’s technically graffiti, there’s just something about the art that makes it so bold! It looks incredible on the walls, and I would not mind having some of these pieces around me all the time.
There is art literally everywhere – all you have to do is walk around. There are few cars allowed in the district, so you should be find going down whatever roads you see! Just be careful not to lose your way, because it could be tricky to figure out where you are again.
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Other Things to Do in the 798 Art Zone
If you have little ones or like to be hands-on, you can visit studios. Sometimes they have workshops and activities that you can do. This one was a huge advertisement for a workshop to help you create art from waste!
The other thing that you can do is check out the many coffee shops and restaurants in the area. These are the reason the art district is gentrifying, but there are just too many good options to pass up! I was headed to the Friends Cafe in Beijing later that day so I opted just for lunch. I love Italian, so I went to Eatalia. It’s located at #4 Jiuxianqiao Road (酒仙桥路4号) at Seven Star West Street (七星西街). They have a really nice seating area, and brought out little bruschetta appetizers with my meal for free! That was pretty nice; just keep in mind Italian is always a bit pricey in China! I had the carbonara.
Have you been to the 798 Art Zone? If so, what was your favorite artwork or gallery?
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