Development of Chaoyang District
Location: Inside Chaoyang Park – nearest gate is the east gate on the 4th ring road. Nearest subway station is Zaoying Station (on the west side of the park)
Opening: 09:30 – 16:30 Tues – Sun (closed on Mondays). Open to individual visitors on Sat & Sun
Chaoyang District is the most populous part of Beijing and makes up around 50% of the central part of the city itself, with a strong claim to be the most important district of the Chinese Capital – containing all but one foreign embassy (Russia being the odd-one-out), plus the main CBD area, and much more, including this very museum!
Opened in 2010 in the eastern part of Chaoyang Park (the largest of the central parks in Beijing) and situated inside an old factory building, this museum is a collection of exhibits, mainly interesting to me for being so little-known despite being both in and about a very important part of the city. Information on this place in English online of very sparse indeed, and not one person I mentioned it to before going there had ever even heard of it, with most confusing it (as I did initially) with the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall.
Chaoyang Museum of Urban Planning is currently open to individual visitors just on Saturday and Sunday, and to pre-arranged groups on weekdays. As I visited on a Sunday the place was empty for the hour I was inside, and despite being filled with screens and various projectors none of the high-tech elements seemed to be turned on – so how much they add to the experience I am not really qualified to testify to.
There are a few different sections to the museum, spread over two floors in a space shared with something called ‘T-Space’ which appears to be a facility used for film premieres, fashion shows, and so on (judging by the photos of such events displayed on the walls here). The upstairs part of the museum was closed during my visit, possibly due to covid restrictions, and possibly because there were clearly multiple leaks in the ceiling of the whole building.
On the ground floor though there are two main exhibitions – one is clunkily called ‘The trace of history – Phoenix comes from the east’ and gives an interesting, if brief, story of the importance of Chaoyang District through the history of Beijing. Only a few snippets are in English, but there are some photos and some relics displayed too showing the district’s importance in terms of agriculture, politics, royal palaces, and even revolutionary activities – it has nothing to do with urban planning though, and seems like it would fit better in an actual museum of Chaoyang District, should one be built (and given that there is empty space in the next building, as the Museum of Global Finance has now closed, this could be an ideal location!
The main exhibit here though is actually one of urban planning in Chaoyang District, and it is also the most interesting part. Made up initially of some wall charts showing off various elements of the 13th five-year plan (which was already a year out of date by the time of my visit) including air quality initiatives, plans for infrastructure expansion, and so on, we soon get to the fun part – models!
There are several here, all with multimedia elements that were turned off, so they may well be far more interesting when visited with an important group, but I found them fun even without all the bells & whistles. Most curious for me though was to see the presence of buildings that don’t actually exist, and that were initially planned to be built and then removed or changed in different ways. So, what we fund is a somewhat bizarro version of the Beijing CBD as it could have been, with some unfamiliar elements thrown in – however only those with a knowledge of the Beijing skyline will actually spot these.
Fun as the models are they are not remotely as interesting as the fuller scale and city-wide equivalents at the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall near Tiananmen Square, so it is hard to actually recommend the Chaoyang Urban Planning Museum if the focus of the visitor is on models, and urban planning itself. However, for anyone who finds themselves in Chaoyang Park, looking for something to do which is a bit of fun, in an interesting re-purposed factory space, and at the weekend, then this museum is one to keep in mind for sure.