Chang'an Avenue and the Modernization of Chinese Architecture

Shuishan Yu

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  • Published: 2013
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Architecture
  • Bibliographic information: 352 pp., 118 color illus., 7 x 10 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

In this interdisciplinary narrative, the never-ending "completion" of China's most important street offers a broad view of the relationship between art and ideology in modern China. Chang'an Avenue, named after China's ancient capital (whose name means "Eternal Peace"), is supremely symbolic. Running east-west through the centuries-old heart of Beijing, it intersects the powerful north-south axis that links the traditional centers of political and spiritual legitimacy (the imperial Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven). Among its best-known features are Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People, as well as numerous other monuments and prominent political, cultural, financial, and travel-related institutions. Drawing on Chang'an Avenue's historic ties and modern transformations, this study explores the deep structure of the Chinese modernization project, providing both a big picture of Beijing's urban texture alteration and details in the design process of individual buildings.

Political winds shift, architectural styles change, and technological innovations influence waves of demolition and reconstruction in this analysis of Chang'an Avenue's metamorphosis. During collective design processes, architects, urban planners, and politicians argue about form, function, and theory, and about Chinese vs. Western and traditional vs. modern style. Every decision is fraught with political significance, from the 1950s debate over whether Tiananmen Square should be open or partially closed; to the 1970s discussion of the proper location, scale, and design of the Mao Memorial/Mausoleum; to the more recent controversy over whether the egg-shaped National Theater, designed by the French architect Paul Andreu, is an affront to Chinese national pride.

For more information:
Shuishan Yu is associate professor of art history at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

"There is no comparable book in a Western language, and Chang'an Avenue goes farther in its vision than any comparable book in Chinese. Focusing on China's most important locus, Tian'anmen and the Forbidden City behind it, and modern China's most important street, Chang'an Avenue, it explains how architecture was integral to China's attempt to define a socialist, sometimes totalitarian, and ultimately people's republican state from the rapidly changing world of the 1950s through the Beijing Olympics."
-Nancy Steinhardt, author of Chinese Imperial City Planning
A Note on Language


1. The History of Chang'an Avenue in an Urban Context
2. National versus Modern: The 1950s
3. Collective Creation: The 1964 Chang'an Avenue Planning
4.: Modernization in a Postmodern World: The 1970s and 1980s
5.: Collage without Planning: Toward the New Millennium
6. Chang'an Avenue and the Axes of Beijing

Conclusion: Chang'an Avenue in a Global Context


"The book highlights radical changes in China's economy and politics that have created new opportunities, new practices, and new debates in architecture. It will be of great interest to students of Chinese contemporary culture and architecture, and valuable as supplementary reading for courses on the global history of architecture."
-Choice Reviews, September 2013

"Presents evocative ideas through detailed accounts of various projects in different historical periods...[and]demonstrates that modernization has never been linear in regard to urban planning and architectural design in modern China."
-Qiu Zitong, The China Journal

"Shuishan Yu makes a compelling case for considering it as one of the world's most significant streets, if not, like the Champs Elysées, on its architectural and urbanistic merits, then by showing what it tells us about the evolution of post-imperial and in particular, post-revolutionary China, about how China presents itself to the world, and, most revealingly, about how China contrives its self-image."
-David Porter, China Quarterly, The

"By enlarging our understanding of the contexts, contradictions, and consequences of choices made my building Chang'an Avenue, Yu offers an effective multi-faceted view of changing modernity in Beijing."
-Charles M. Musgrove, Journal of Asian Studies