Restored Qing Dynasty street not ready for Olympic tourists


BEIJING — Beijing planners lifted the veil Tuesday on the city’s newest tourist attraction — a fully refurbished Qing dynasty street – then admitted that the project would not be open in time for the Olympics.

Beijing city and local banks have poured 9.2 billion yuan (1.3 billion dollars) into restoration work on Qianmen Street, one of the capital’s oldest neighbourhoods, with the goal of restoring it to its former glory a century ago during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

“It won’t be finished in time for the Olympics,” Tian Yun, chairman of the real estate developers working on the project told visiting journalists. “But tourists will still be able to come and have a look.”

Qianmen Street runs down Beijing’s historic central axis just south of Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. Further to the north stands the new National Stadium, the main arena for the August 8-24 Olympics.

The road has been torn up and replaced with paving stones to make up a pedestrian street, with cars giving way to a tramway that has been restored after it was discontinued in the 1960s.

Qianmen Street reached its peak of importance in pre-revolutionary times as a commercial, theatre and entertainment district but fell on hard times in recent decades because of over population and inner city decay.

The project to renovate the area was launched in May last year and newspapers reported at the time that the goal was to finish it in time to attract Olympic tourists.

Up to 500,000 foreign visitors are expected to be in Beijing during the Games but Tian denied that a deadline for opening the street had been missed.

“We are here to do a good job, not to rush the job for anybody,” he said, adding that he could not say when the project would be completed.

Critics have charged that the street has been turned into a Disney-style version of old China that bears little resemblance to reality.

“This is history as it never was,” said Ed Lanfranco, a writer who has monitored the changing face of Beijing for the past 20 years.

But Tian said restoration work had been conducted using old photographs and written records and that no buildings of historic importance had been demolished.