Making History

Just inside the southern gate of Fenghuangtai village (凤凰台村) in Hebei province, construction workers are picking through the rubble of an old courtyard home.

In front of the debris, the street has been stripped of its pavement, leaving a dusty surface which threatens to turn into a quagmire as rain begins to fall. The owners stare at the wreckage of their former home and the broken street with a happy mixture of anticipation and excitement.

Their village is going through a profound metamorphosis. Work crews are sweeping away all remnants of the old village in preparation for a gleaming Old Town which purports to celebrate the rich history of Fenghuangtai, or “Phoenix Garrison.”

In the new Old Town, gates and walls will have a uniform appearance. The street will be repaved with historic stones recently purchased from a building supplier in Shijiazhuang, the nearby provincial capital. The village temple, venerating Zhenwu (真武, “The Perfected Warrior”), a deity in Chinese popular religion associated with Northerners, has been completely rebuilt; Red Guards had razed the Qing-era original during the Cultural Revolution. Across from the village gate, a swampy area along the banks of the Yihe River is being excavated. Eventually, it will be a car park and service area for tourists.