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.)