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Beijing’s original skyscraper short in height but not in history

Date:2012-10-22

It may today seem odd that a building as ordinary as the Minzu Hotel, located on central Chang'an Avenue, could once have bore the title 'Beijing's tallest'. Compared to the giants that currently make up the city's skyline, the building seems stunted.

It was at one time however just that, following its completion in 1959. At the same time, it was the first hotel in Beijing during the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Presently the China World Trade Center on Jianguomen Dajie claims the title of tallest at 1,083 feet. The building was designed by America's prestigious Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and takes on the firm's famous 'glass box' style associated with buildings celebrated worldwide.

Though the Minzu Hotel by contrast stands at a humble 161 feet - almost one-seventh of China World Trade Center's height - it remains the city's original skyscraper.

Between 1959 and 1964 it topped every other freestanding structure in Beijing, and was the first prefabricated reinforced concrete building to incorporate a frame structure, according to Baike on Baidu, the equivalent of Wikipedia on the Chinese search engine. This made it a novel architectural design at the time in Beijing.

The Minzu Hotel was first commissioned as one of 10 commemorative landmarks in honor of the 10 year anniversary of the PRC. Other buildings chosen for this purpose include the China National Museum, the China Military Museum and the Agricultural Exhibition Center.

Today the four-star hotel remains open to both tourists and visitors on business. Lu Ping, a spokesperson for the hotel, agreed to answer Metro Beijing's questions concerning why a hotel came to be erected among the commemorative monuments for the occasion.

"Our hotel was built at a time when Beijing had few international guests, but was named 'Minority National Hotel' for the purpose of welcoming representatives from each of China's 56 minority groups," she said. The name 'Minority National' (minzuin Chinese), she explained, was a name chosen by Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People's Republic of China.

Many decades after it was built, the Minzu Hotel continues to play a role in Beijing. It has been the host of important meetings between China and other nations, such as the 1979 normalization of Sino-US relations, and was contracted in 2008 to endorse the Beijing Olympics Games.

While it has now been 54 years since its completion, the hotel still stands, representing an interesting piece of innovation from the period and the PRC's first nod towards tourism.

Much around it has transformed, with numerous hotels now similarly located close to Tiananmen Square, but the Minzu Hotel bears little change. Fans of architecture may consider it a subject of particular interest, one that risks being easily overlooked in light of other, taller structures. Meanwhile, fans of antiques might be amused upon visiting the lobby's display of imitation Shang Dynasty (C.1600-1046BC) sculptures.

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