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Underground ‘time machine’ unveils Chinese capital in 1980s


Frozen in time, one walking into the sub-level of the Wangfujing Department Store could easily think they had traveled back in time to Beijing in the 1980s.

Despite its 80s decor, "Heping Guoju" is a modern-day commercial street located on the underground floor of the time-honored department store and landmark in Wangfujing.

Opened on Aug. 12, "Heping Guoju" is reputed as a unique "time machine" that can transport visitors back to Beijing in the 1980s by simply taking an elevator.

"That's exactly what my old courtyard looked like," said a visitor in her 70s, who once lived on Wangfujing street decades ago. "My previous home was torn down due to a new urban plan. I miss it so much."

Covering about 2,400 square meters, "Heping Guoju" is also Beijing's first immersive museum combining various forms of its folk cultures including street landscapes, intangible cultural heritage and snacks.

Kong Lujun, the sixth generation in a family of sugar-figure blowers, whose previous store was on Qianmen street, said he was invited to "Heping Guoju" in August.

"This is an ideal place to sell my goods and inherit folk cultures," said Kong.

But for Han Tong, founder of the museum, "Heping Guoju" is far more than a business. "I have a big dream to present how Beijing looked more than 30 years ago." Han said.

Born in the 1980s, Han grew up in a traditional courtyard house and has witnessed many changes in the capital city. "For me, the word 'nostalgia' concerns small objects that record history and memories," said Han.

According to a report published by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Planning and Natural Resources, the number of "Hutong" dwindled to 1,571 in 2003, compared to 3,250 in 1949.

"When I was a little boy, Hutong meant connections between neighbors, where people shared lives and would even leave home without locking their doors," said Han.

In recent years, Chinese government authorities have rolled out a slate of supportive policies of cultural heritage protection.

According to a report of the National Cultural Heritage Administration in 2014, over 10 billion yuan (about 1.42 billion U.S. dollars) was invested in protecting 43 historical blocks in Beijing including streets around Tiananmen Square, Shicha Lake and South Luogu Lane.

As one of the oldest business streets along Beijing's historical blocks, Wangfujing street is adapting to meet client demands by incorporating features of Beijng's culture.

"Wangfujing street can be a center of cultural exchanges and a model of Chinese commerce," said Liu Bing, chairman of the commerce chamber of Wangfujing street.

According to a report published by the Ministry of Commerce on April 3, 2019, Beijing planned to stimulate consumption and upgrade commerce facilities.

Having succeeded in opening several Beijing specialty restaurants like "Ju Qi," which gained a reputation for its adherence to Beijing folk cultures in interior design and dish design, Han Tong attempted to make breakthroughs in the retail business.

"Capturing the elements of Beijing in the 1980s, I want to reinvigorate these essential parts of life among Beijingers to adapt to their modern needs," said Han Tong.


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