One of the weird places in Beijing is the Tap Water Museum, located in a residential area of Dongcheng, on the site of the first Water Supply Company of Beijing, which was founded in 1908.
In the waning days of Qing Dynasty, Beijing residents had to rely on rivers or to dig wells to get water. By 1885 there were 1245 wells, and the landlocked city was plagued by constant fires. There was a desperate need to create more effective ways to fight fires and to have a better water supply in general.
According to historical records, General Yuan Shikai advised Empress Cixi to let businessmen sell shares to raise the capital for building the water supply system and to import the necessary equipment from Europe. On the 18th of March, 1908, the Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce officials filed a report about the construction of water supply in Beijing. The report itself is kept in the museum to this day. Beijing's water supply company, Jingshi Tap Water Co.Ltd , was the beginning of the new era for the entire China. Moreover, the company was one of the first Chinese joint-stock enterprises. Their license and shares are also exhibited in the museum.
The first thing you see upon entering the museum is a wooden wheelbarrow for water delivery, with two buckets and a carrying pole. These objects tell visitors about the beginnings of the water supply company's work. Initially, tap water was not supplied directly into people's homes – there were water stations controlled by qualified personnel. The water was first pumped into the water car, and then distributed to the citizens. Many citizens were wary of this strange new water, and the company had to come up with all kinds of promotional tricks to get them to drink it – free of charge water tastings, 50% discounts, free deliveries for disabled and elderly, etc. Gradually, citizens realized that the water is safe, clean and convenient to get, and the business finally took off.
The Tap Water Museum reflects the 90-year-old history of water supply development from the establishment of Jingshi Tap Water Co.Ltd in 1908 to the foundation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and its progress from then on. There are plenty of models, water meters, amusing electrical appliances from the 70s and 80s, and photos from the post-1949 era when people had to pay in coupons for water at public water stations. A wall with a huge interactive map of pipe water distribution in China demonstrates where it all comes from and when different reservoirs were opened. The other wall has photos of Mao Zedong and the prime minister Zhou Enlai working together with water company employees on the construction site of Beijing reservoir, showing the people's persistence and determination in overcoming the difficulties of water consumption.