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ON THE HORIZON: Bye-Bye Da Hutong and Hello Wang Ding Di
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Bye-Bye Da Hutong and Hello Wang Ding Di

By Richard J. Cook

BT 201607 160 05 On the horizon dht6One of Tianjin's most iconic shopping streets is set to move, the local government has announced. Da Hutong, which is famous for its haggling and bargain buys is set relocate at the end of August, thus marking the end of an era for the inner city flea market. Up to 5000 small businesses will be moved once the closure takes place, one of the largest small business relocation projects in the city's history. Major fire hazards have been cited as the main concern, as well as other issues of squalor and general appearance. The flea market operations will be moved to Wang Ding Di in Xiqing District, which already has a sizable flea market itself.

In their official statement, the local government stated that the project would "regenerate this very popular area", suggesting that Da Hutong would be modernized much like the Beijing Chao Ya and Pearl Street renovation projects from previous years. Although these two projects proved popular in Beijing, the result was a wave of self-inflated prices by stall owners on what should be cheap goods. If the trend holds, Tianjin's Da Hutong and its long lineage of selling almost anything you can possibly think of and at outrageously cheap prices will be lost, as a modern sleek hutong will replace it also with self-inflated prices. Even with this being said, there is still no official confirmation on what will actually replace Da Hutong.

Surprise or No Surprise?

BT 201607 160 03 On the horizon dht3For many that know Tianjin well, this move has been a long time coming. As it stands Da Hutong is largely under siege from a whole range of new luxury housing and commercial development companies. Furthermore, the market itself has been plagued with poor management issues and a corner cutting mentality that has left it in a fairly poor condition. Street after street of the market is riddled with litter and is marred by poor sanitation in almost every aspect. Over the past several years, increasingly better quality standards have meant that older facilities in the market have failed to become qualified for public use, under grounds of health and safety.

The lack of physical space within the market has also prompted concerns, particularly on the build up to festivals and on public holidays, when the market is often operating over its capacity, meaning there are some significant dangers to the customers. What followed was the announcement that the local government was keen to highlight the fact that the move will allow a fresh start and a clean slate for Tianjin's flea market economy.

As mentioned before, Wang Ding Di is already in the possession of a fairly sizable flea market itself, however its surrounding geography is not a besieging issue. Noted for being "the best place to buy an electric scooter" in the city, Wang Ding Di has a lot of potential to even out-do Da Hutong in terms of price. Relocating away from the city center and away from ancient culture street will remove the incentive for gradual rising prices that many expats have witnessed here over the years. In addition, venturing to Wang Ding Di would not be a major headache as it sits on top of metro line 3 with its own metro station. However it is 10km away from Da Hutong, a sizable enough distance to potentially throw customers off visiting.

BT 201607 160 06 On the horizon hlOn the other hand, the news has come as a bit of a shock to some, since Da Hutong is considered one of the major low end market organs of Tianjin's central business district. Although lacking in appearance, the flea market gave Tianjin one of its most unique characteristics, something that many major urban areas have lost in China. The westernization of shopping trends in China is largely to blame for this, meaning the public now craves sophisticated shopping malls over the hustle bustle of a traditional shopping street area.

What is a "Hutong"?

BT 201607 160 07 On the horizon olddaht1A "hutong" is a Chinese traditional residential area, normally characterized by its low houses and very narrow, winding streets, which lead into many clusters of courtyards and small open spaces. Commonly used throughout Chinese history in urban areas up until China's modernization, these areas are now in steep decline. Although fantastic tourist hotspots, these large primitive residential zones are not fit for the demands of a 21st century metropolis and often prove a headache for city ordinance operations and maintenance.

For years now, the government has been regenerating these areas, replacing them with mazes of modern high-rise residential blocks. However, this means that the hutong community concept is now in danger of becoming extinct across many Chinese cities. It may well be the old replaced with the new, yet these often close knit communities, generally lower class and having generation after generation of family members, may well lose their traditional heritage.

In case of Tianjin's Da Hutong, the hutong itself was commercialized when the imperial powers converted Tianjin into a bustling trading port at the turn of the 19th century. The traditional commercial focus was then entrenched and has remained ever since. As Tianjin entered the international economic stage over the past two decades, Da Hutong personified a clash between the old and the new shopping trends. Eventually, Da Hutong became pivotal in local Tianjin custom when seeking "cheapness over quality". What is for certain is that Wang Ding Di certainly has some big shoes to fill, not to mention the need for it to outshine its soon to be predecessor.

Closing Down Sale

The best piece of news is kept for last, as a major commodity sale has been announced that will take place from now till August 31st in order to clear Da Hutong. So don't forget to set at least one day aside to indulge yourself in some bargain shopping!

Da Hutong大胡同
Tianjin Hongqiao District, Beimalu, NO.4天津市红桥区北马路4号


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