Zhang Lijia
Zhang Lijia

Not deterred by the ongoing heavy smog in Beijing. author Zhang Lijia took of with her Polish friend Kaisa to explore the capital. The charm of the city cannot be buried by the smog, she argues on het weblog.

Zhang Lijia:

The highlight of our tour was Dong Fang Hotel (Oriental Hotel),China’s first luxury hotel, 20 minutes walk southwest of Capital M in Jianmen. Constructed in 1918, the hotel was a product of the so-called The Culture Movement that swept China in 1910 and 20’s, in the early Republic period, shortly after the ending of the imperial dynasties.

Frustrated by China’s backwardness and disillusioned with traditional Chinese culture, many Chinese intellectuals looked up to the west and called for a new culture that was based on western culture and value, in peculiarly democracy and science. They wanted to modernize China. Beijing and Shanghai were the two centers. In the mid-1910’s, the concept of urban planning was introduce for the first time and the New Downtown in Xiangchang emerged, featured two-storey brick houses similar to style with those in Shanghai’s Xintiandi. Dong Fang Hotel was in the center of Xiangchang square. Many lead players of the New Culture Movement, such as Chen Duxiu, Cai Yuanpei, Li Dazhao, and Lu Xun took residence or frequented here.

I was thrilled to find such a historical hotel with characters – there are just so few of them in China, unlike India that boasts tons of boutique hotels that are turned from old places and such. Kasia had read about Dong Fang but hadn’t explored it. So we went inside. The hotel got two parts, the old building and the new one,constructed in 2006 in the old style, as showcased by the stair case in the lobby. A bell boy showed us the old building, now called ‘residence of celebrities’. Indeed, a plaque is placed in front of every room, explaining who stayed here, when and for what. Each one of them had a fascinating story to tell and left his(her – I only noticed one woman, writer Bing Xin) mark in history. Among those less famous people associated with the hotel was a man by the name Shao Piaoping, the editor-in-chief of newspaper Jing. In April 1926, he was arrested for writing an article critical of the authority and was promptly executed in public. Maybe the world should be too shocked by the way today’s authority treating journalists who dare to push the envelope. During the last walk tour, we had visited the site of Jing office.

The Dong Fang Hotel in Beijing

At Dong Fang, we wanted to visit the room of Lu Xun – in fact, he was today’s focus as Kasia intended to plan another route to follow the footstep of the literary giant. Lu Xun had taken refuge here with his family in 1926 after hearing that a war between different war lords was to break out. The war was somehow avoided. His family went back home and he stayed on to write. His short stories and essays critical of Confucius value, written in style of the so-called “vernacular Chinese’ (bai hua) were causing sensations among the educated middle class. Since his room was occupied, we saw the suite of Cai Yuanpei, the renowned scholar, educator and the president of Peking University. The room is spacious with high ceiling, furnished with antique furniture (most likely recently produced), an old styled phone and old styled calendar featuring cheongsam clad film stars. In the sitting room, there’s an opium bed with tea set. All of these lured me to stay. And I will, soon. I love to stay at hotels laden with history and interesting tales.

More at Zhang Lijia’s weblog.

Zhang Lijia
is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form. Zhang Lijia intends also to appear on today’s China Weekly Hangout on “Failing Foreign Firm”, if technology is willing.

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