Former site of water pump manufacturer turned into cultural park that honors industrial past and memories of those who had worked there
A recently opened cultural park, which houses one of the oldest factories in the eastern Shanxi city of Yangquan, is bringing back nostalgic memories to locals and a novel experience to visitors.
The park, named City Memory 1947, is located at the former Yangquan Water Pump Factory. The factory was relocated to a new site in the city in August 2020.
Covering about 97,000 square meters, the cultural park was developed by Yangquan Cultural Tourism Corp. The first-phase investment in the project was 331.4 million yuan ($52 million), according to Zhao Min, deputy chief for operations at the company.
Yangquan was one of the important bases for the Chinese revolution. It boasted the first city administration established by the Communist Party of China. The CPC-led Yangquan city government was founded on May 4, 1947.
Founded in the same year, Yangquan Water Pump Factory was the first State-owned manufacturing enterprise in the city. The site's previous occupant was an armaments factory established in 1946.
When the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, the factory began its transformation into a civil enterprise. It began to produce water pumps in 1952.
Over the seven decades since, the company has developed into one of the leading pump manufacturing enterprises in China. It now produces 168 product varieties with a wide range of applications.
Because of its rapid expansion, the company relocated to a new site with more space in 2020.
There was much speculation over what the old site in the center of Yangquan would be used for.
"Some people were afraid that the site would become an unpleasant 'rust zone' in the city," said Wang Jiwen, a worker with Yangquan Water Pump Factory. "Others guessed that it would be used for real estate development."
"But when the city government released the development plan, we were both surprised and delighted," he said.
"It's beyond our expectations that it would become a cultural park and a new tourist attraction of the city. That would be a perfect combination of history, life and fashion."
Wang, 53, has been working with the enterprise for more than 30 years. He said employees of Yangquan Water Pump Factory are among the happiest with the project. "We are emotionally attached to every inch of land in this old site, cherishing it as a spiritual place in our hearts."
Industry-related tourism has become a novel and sensational experience for many tourists in China, especially the young generation. One of the pilots in this field is the 798 Art Center. Developed on a former industrial district in Beijing, it is now one of the top destinations for many young, fashionable and cultured tourists.
Cui Xiaolin, general manager of City Memory 1947, said this cultural park is designed to offer a similar experience to tourists.
He said renovation of the old factory and its site began last year. "We have kept a lot of industrial elements in the park," Cui said. "These include the factory buildings, manufacturing equipment and other traces of past times."
He said the high-rise chimney is still there, making the cultural park easily recognized from a long distance.
Before and during the renovation, the site was frequently visited by employees of the former factory. Their suggestions and emotional responses were incorporated into the design of the project, according to Cui.
Wang said visiting the cultural park is now part of his leisure routine.
"I often feel relieved when seeing the old plant, touching the old machines, feeling the smell of lubricant grease and bathing in the sunshine that is let in through the transparent shingles on the plant roofs," Wang said. "Things are changing every day but there are also things permanently in our memory."
The cultural park is a showcase of not only the history of the factory but also that of the city, according to Cui.
A core part of the park is the Yangquan Memory Museum.
"The museum is about every aspect of the city's history, with material exhibits, pictures and videos that show the life, people, culture, industries and commerce," Cui said.
It is worth noting that a great number of the exhibits were donated by more than 800 residents in Yangquan. Replicas of the old Yangquan Railway Station and the 1947 Yangquan city government building complex were also built near the museum.
According to Cui, the cultural park is expected to receive 150,000 visits a year once it becomes fully operational.
He said the first phase of the cultural park project, with facilities for exhibition, experience, cultural creativity and recreation, has been basically completed. The second phase, which mainly focuses on catering, accommodation, education and other services, is underway.
Meanwhile, the new Yangquan Water Pump Factory is based in the Yangquan High-Tech Industrial Zone. The company is restructuring its operations with investments from several enterprises in the city. It is diversifying its production to cover such products as pumps, valves and iron and steel castings.
Wang Pei contributed to this story.