The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed
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A fascinating, intimate portrait of Beijing through the lens of its oldest neighborhood, facing destruction as the city, and China, relentlessly modernizes.
Soon we will be able to say about old Beijing that what emperors, warlords, Japanese invaders, and Communist planners couldn't eradicate, the market economy has. Weaving historical vignettes of Beijing and China over a thousand years Michael Meyer captures the city's deep past as he illuminates its present, and especially the destruction of its ancient neighborhoods and the eradication of a way of life that has epitomized China's capital. With an insider's insight, The Last Days of Old Beijing is an invaluable witness to history, bringing into shining focus the ebb and flow of life in old Beijing at this pivotal moment.
latrine.” “The house had two stories. I lived upstairs with my grandmother. There was a massive beam running along the roof seam, a big piece of wood. Very rough, like it was the trunk of an old tree. My grandmother enjoyed it when I walked on her back, and so I would hold on to the beam and step on her. I would say, ‘No,’ and she would say, ‘What’s no? Stand on me.’ I said I didn’t weigh enough to massage her back, and she said, ‘You get up there.’ I was afraid I would fall, so she said to grab
While she did not utter the word profit, Ms. Zhang also did not ask how residents viewed their neighborhood, or what intangible elements were worth saving there. I was not surprised; developers raise (and raze) buildings to make money for their investors. But I was dismayed. Given its capital, clout, and culture, SOHO could do something unique in upgrading the area to modern standards. Yet Ms. Zhang and one of her architects intimated they were not making decisions unilaterally. Yung-Ho Chang,
The Widow walked in without knocking. She told me to add layers of clothing to my forearms, lest I catch pneumonia. I introduced her to Old Zhang, adding that his home was being destroyed. “Little Plumblossom,” she said, “I am telling you, I will never move from here. Never! This courtyard is my home.” Fresh Fish Junction was now unlit and silent at night, making the empty lanes feel haunted. I wanted to see Old Zhang home. We left my house and biked down the brightly lit streets of Dazhalan,
personality. He, his girlfriend, and their cat lived in two rooms of a courtyard, with no bathroom. He was self-employed, picking up money here and there from talks and articles. His first book was published in 2005, named A Carnal History of the Eight Big Lanes, a chronicle of Dazhalan’s brothels and opium dens. Authors seldom make a living from writing in China. Agents are few, advances small, and accounting of sales for royalties is murky. Zhang didn’t even own any copies of his book. When I
Grain became Central Park. The Ancestral Temple was converted to Peace Park. The fall of the emperor also toppled the city’s economy, which had served the court, and the unemployment rate skyrocketed to 57 percent. The republic’s provisional government chose as its president a former Imperial Army general named Yuan Shikai. In 1915, the short, corpulent Yuan—often photographed wearing a uniform resplendent in ribbons and medals—declared himself emperor. He lived in a two-story, Western-style