Trains carrying steel are seen in Shougang factory plant in Shijingshan District in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 26, 2010. (Xinhua/Li Wenming)
By Sportswriters Zhou Jie, Ji Ye, Zhang Han
It's a sunny winter afternoon, and Huang Jinzhi, a barbershop owner, stands on the balcony of her house some 13 stories above the ground, pointing to the iron ore storage towers and blast furnaces about 300 meters away. "They look beautiful," she said.
The towers and blast furnaces for Shougang, one of China's largest steel enterprises, now is setting a vivid example of urban regeneration. "The Shougang Industrial Park" is not only becoming the home to the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games Organizing Committee, but is also being transformed into Big Air snowboarding venues for the Games.
Huang Jinzhi fled away from the area 15 years ago, citing the bad air quality that emanated from the plant.
The change began ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, when Shougang began its relocation in order to return the blue skies to China's capital city.
THE LAST FIRE
"With the last heavy smoke breaking out, the fire in the No. 3 blast furnace was extinguished, signaling that Shougang had ceased its steel production in the Beijing metropolitan area. The figure on the hand of the pressure gauge turned zero, the pipeline was cut off, the machines stopped working, and the roaring sound no longer echoed." This is one of the scenes recorded in the documentary "Shougang Relocation."
The furnace operator Ai Hongbo still remembers the scene when the last fire was extinguished, even after more than eight years.
"I could not hold back tears. Half of a dozen of my colleagues on the shift could not either," Ai said.
Ai was then on duty with his coworkers when the No. 3 furnace, the last one working, ceased its production on December 19, 2010.
Ai had spent 20 years in Shougang as a blast furnace operator.
"The iron notch of the furnace was opened, and then it closed." Ai Hongbo said as he bent back his head, looking up and holding back tears in his eyes.
It was a sudden and drastic change. Without the heat of steel production from Shougang, the Qunming Lake in the Shougang area began to freeze in the winter.
According to statistics, at the turn of the millenium, about 100,000 people worked and lived here.
From the construction of the plant to the suspension of production, Shougang accumulated a total of 197.5 million tons of iron. The number of employees across the country reached 260,000 at the peak. From 1979 to 2009, Shougang had a total turnover of 60.8 billion yuan in profits and taxes. In the most prosperous period of the steel market, Shougang's profits and taxes accounted for a quarter of the total income of Beijing.
However, the rapid development of the steel industry ultimately exceeded the environmental capacity of the city. There was a saying in the past: "There is a black cover over the city of Beijing. The center of the cover is in Shijingshan -- the western district of the capital where the old industry is located. At night, it moves to the city and sinks." Liang Zongping, a top official of Shougang Group, recalled that when Beijing bid for the 2008 Olympic Games, there was a warning that the environmental problems which arose from Shougang would hinder the bid.
Shougang's entire steel-making complex (a city within a city) sped up its relocation process in the run up to and after Beijing 2008.
In February 2005, the National Development and Reform Commission officially approved the Shougang relocation plan and gave the green light for Shougang to gradually shut down its steel production at the Shijingshan plant.
"We had to face the reality and relocate," said Liang. "It can be hard to accept reality. But we cannot live by nostalgia alone."
"The relocation of Shougang is in line with the overall development of our country. With the improvement of our living quality, everyone has the right to ask for a better environment."
As of 2011, 64,700 Shougang employees had been relocated to different working sites. Ai Hongbo went to Caofeidian Jingtang Iron and Steel Company, a new steel plant on the coast of the Bohai Sea.
With this repositioning, Shougang transformed its production structure from low-end construction steel to high-end sheet and long products and fully implemented waste recycling. Caofeidian has been developing into a 21st century town.
NEW LANDMARK FOR ICE AND SNOW SPORTS
The relocation of Shougang has been a catalyst for the new city of Caofeidian, but left huge industrial relics in the capital city. Liang Zongping had this take.
"At that time, many industry experts gave us advice on how to use the land. At first sight, I have to say their ideas are well-planned. But after a second thought, we thought we have to be careful about how we revamp this precious area."
Beijing city planners chose not to bulldoze the industrial park but have instead taken on the difficult but rewarding task of urban regeneration.
They were waiting for a perfect chance.
Ai Hongbo and his young colleague Li Hongji did not have to wait. Ai Hongbo chose to work in Caofeidian, and Li Hongji made up his mind to stay in the area, mounting guard over the equipment in the old plants. In 2015, Ai joined the security personnel serving high-end property projects in the silos.
Just as was the case with Shougang itself, everything changed for Li all of a sudden. Flame-retardant protective clothing was changed into a suit, his sledgehammer became a walkie-talkie, and it was difficult to figure out how to wear a tie. Feeling uncomfortable, he was ready to resign.
"As a furnace operator, I never wore a tie, and I seldom wear a white shirt." Li Hongji had to search online to learn how to wear a tie. "It took me a week to get familiar with it," he said.
On July 31, 2015, less than a month after Li Hongji went into his new position, Beijing was awarded the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, which gave Shougang new possibilities.
"After the successful bid for the Winter Olympics, our group's management was thinking about whether Shougang could have a rebirth with the Winter Olympics," Liang said. "We submitted a report to the Beijing municipal government, who finally decided to base the headquarters of the Beijing 2022 organizing committee in Shougang Park."
The decision encouraged Li Hongji to stay. At the eve of the 2016 Chinese New Year, Li got the news that the Winter Olympics Organizing Committee was about to move in. "I was excited by the change," he said.
One year later, the Chinese national ice sports team chose to base its training camp in the park with four new venues which are commonly known as the "four ice rinks", all converted from old plants. The clean coal workshop was converted to house short track speed skating, figure skating, and curling training camps. The coal station was changed into an ice hockey arena.
Liu Boqiang, a welding worker in Shougang, was shocked by the changes.
"One day my supervisor told me whether I was interested in learning how to make ice and sweep ice. I asked was it to make ice cubes?" Liu Boqiang laughed.
In the summer of 2017, Liu Boqiang spent three months learning ice-surfacing in the Capital Gymnasium, the winter sports center in Beijing. He found the new job interesting.
"It was beyond my expectations. During the 2008 Olympic Games, I was a spectator. In ten years' time, I could be part of the staff participating in the preparation for Winter Olympics, helping Chinese skaters to prepare for the Games."
The 41-year-old Liu added, "the Winter Olympics renewed my hope. The surfacing of the ice rink will lead the second half of my life."
Apart from skating, the Shougang Park will also witness the first ever Olympic snow sports competition in a city center. On the shore of Qunming Lake, a platform backed by three huge cooling towers will rise into the sky, which will be a new landmark of Shougang. During the Beijing 2022 Big Air competition, the world's finest snowboarders will be flying down ramps setting off from the side of former vast 70m-plus cooling towers in the heart of Beijing's former industrial district.
As a part of the mission to leverage the 2022 Games to introduce 300 million Chinese participants to winter sports, there are plans for further sports leisure facilities to take shape among Shougang's 100-plus smokestacks. Additional plans for the Shougang district, which is a pilot project for the reformation of antiquated industrial zones across China, will include offices for multiple companies, a museum, a conference center, an innovation business complex, a waterpark, and a waterfront music stage.
On June 5, 2018, Shougang Group officially became a cooperative partner of the official urban renewal service of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games and Winter Paralympic Games in 2022.
In the view of Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the re-use of the industrial heritage is "amazing". During the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, he said that Beijing set a new bench mark for a sustainable Olympic Games, one that is in line with the IOC's affordable, beneficial and sustainable new normal for the hosting of future editions of the Games.
NEW SPORTS CITY
In Liang Zongping's eyes, Shougang Sports is also undergoing its most profound changes ever. "From union sports to professional sports," he said. "This change can also be attributed to the Winter Olympics."
"It may be because of the Winter Olympics that Shougang realized that sports must always progress and can no longer be like union sports," he added.
In September 2018, Shougang Group launched a five-year cooperative initiative with the Chinese Ice Hockey Association (CIHA) to facilitate the sport's continued growth beyond Beijing 2022 in China, 18 months after Shougang took over the men's ice hockey team from Beijing Sports Bureau.
"The program is committed to building a more open and collaborative system for talent recruitment and development to assist hockey's revitalization leading up to the 2022 Olympics," said CIHA president Cao Weidong.
Qin Xiaowen, CEO of Shougang Sports, said she expected the overseas program to produce better results than the traditional state-run system. "It's a new system involving all possible talent, expertise and resources to push China forward in the sport."
Song Andong, a Beijing native and China's first NHL draftee selected by the New York Islanders in 2015, said that "the program is exciting as it will offer more kids the opportunities to begin from where I started." Song is now a key player in the Shougang ice hockey team men's squad.
Under management of Shougang Sports, the Shougang men's ice hockey team finished in the top three in the national men's ice hockey group A championship last May.
Shougang Sport's ambition has no bounds. As early as in 2014, Shougang Sports acquired the table tennis team from Beijing Sports Bureau and has been taking part in the Chinese Super Table Tennis League since then. Women's singles Olympic champion Ding Ning, 28, says that she always felt at home playing for Shougang.
"The Beijing women's table tennis team has been a young squad with a long history and past honor since Zhang Yining retired and Guo Yan turned a coach. But Shougang Sports helped us go smoothly during the transition and made us more professional as a club in the Chinese Super League," she said. "If everything goes to the plan, I will play for Shougang until my table tennis career ends."
In May 2017, the China Softball Association and Shougang Sports also jointly established the National Women's Softball Team and played in the American Softball Professional League.
The Shougang Basketball Team cooperated with Beijing Sports University and the American Basketball Academy to launch an "Eagle Project" to train young talents in the United States. A total of 57 kids have been sent to the United States since the project launched, said Min Lulei, who oversees the program.
Min Lulei, head coach of the Shougang men's basketball team, led his boys to three league titles in four consecutive CBA seasons. "Shougang's victory has been a signature for the city of Beijing," he said. "It brings joy to Beijing residents."
To bring happiness from sports to city residents, Liang Zongping said that Shougang sports is planning to organize its own sports league competitions.
"One of the tenets of Shougang Sports is to help people have fun through sports," Liang Zongping said. "Maybe a sports game will inspire a generation."
"A city, especially a city with such influence, must have a very good team. It can be a cultural symbol. Shougang Sports has taken on the backbone of Beijing sports and wants to help Beijing build the 'best sports' city," he added.
DREAMS COME TRUE IN THE NEW ERA
"I was on top of the world when Shougang was relocated!" Although four family members were working in the steel mill, Huang Jinzhi still felt "very happy" to hear the news.
The community she lives in is called Casting Village, where the residents are either Shougang employees or their families. Huang Jinzhi moved to the house in 2000. Compared to the times when she first arrived, the smokestacks, warehouses, and factory buildings look no different on the outside, but everything else outside is different now.
"I had my child in 2002. When thick smoke was spouted from the smokestacks, it smelled too awful. It was dirty even though I swept the floor three times a day," she said.
"The environment was not healthy, I did not like to take walks outside. I usually would take my child to Pingguoyuan, about more than one-hour walking from my home," Huang recalled.
In 2003, she ran a barber shop in Pingguoyuan, and her family simply lived in the shop.
In 2011, the steel mill was relocated, and Huang Jinzhi was happy enough to move her family back. She found that the pungent smell was gone, the floor could keep shining for three days without sweeping. She frequently opens a window and enjoys the sunshine.
According to data of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, the number of blue-sky days in 2011 in Beijing increased from 100 days in 1998 to 286 days. In that year, Beijing's energy consumption per 10,000 yuan of GDP fell by 6.95%, electricity consumption per 10,000 yuan of GDP fell by 6.1%, and various air pollutant concentration indicators fell dramatically.
The 108 smokestacks of Shougang are still standing there, but there is no more smoke coming from them.
Huang Jinzhi can stand in front of the window to have a look at the light outside. She dared not to recollect the memories about the nights before the relocation of Shougang. "I could see nothing outside through a window. It was dark," she said.
The casting village has also changed. The street lights in the community are brighter, the supermarket is closer, and the park beside the Yongding River has become a good place for a walk. Residents living in the village enjoy easy access to every corner of the city.
Liang Zongping described his vision of the Shougang Park. Standing on the top of Shijingshan Mountain and looking to the east, what one can see is a sea of lights, which vividly combines the vicissitudes of old industry and modern fashion. In his view, the flashing light is the breath of this historic city in the post-industrial era.
In October 2018, four world cultural heritage experts from UNESCO, the International Council of Ancient Ruins and the University of London visited Shougang Park. They were amazed by the rebirth of this industrial site, saying that Shougang has set a good example in the world. Michael Turner, an UNESCO professor of urban design and conservation studies, said "from the old factory building to the future Winter Olympic Stadium," Shougang's new idea of renewal and renovation is worth promoting.
IOC president Bach has encouraged the world to visit Shougang. "If you are interested in urban renewal, if you want to know how the Olympic Games drive the urban development, and if you also want to know how it helps in planning the development of a city, a region, or even a country, then please look around. Looking at this exemplary Shougang Park, you will know all the answers," Bach said.
(Xinhua sportswriters Shen Nan, Ding Wenxian, Xiao Shiyao, Wang Yong and Li Bowen contributed to this story.)