This article examines how China’s rust-belt cities deploy historical preservation for urban revitalization. Drawing upon fieldwork interviews and online debates, it investigates the preservation battle over Jihong Bridge in Harbin in northeast China. Built by Russian settlers in the early 20th century, Jihong Bridge symbolizes the birth of Harbin as a railway city, but a century later, it stood in the way of the local government’s ambitious plan for building high-speed rail. The municipal government elevated the bridge, significantly modifying its structure to allow high-speed trains to pass underneath. The renovation was heavily criticized by local preservationists, who invoked the government’s own preservation regulations to try to save the bridge. The study highlights the dilemma faced by local governments of rust-belt cities, as they are caught between the desire to deploy historical architecture for city branding and competing priorities of infrastructure investment.
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