Pat's Reviews > The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed

The Last Days of Old Beijing by Michael Meyer
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's review
Feb 10, 2009

really liked it
Read in February, 2008

The author describes a way of life that is fast disappearing in all of China, though most probably, even faster in Beijing and other large cities. It would appear that progress is happening all over China and, as in many other places around the world, progress very often means getting rid of the old communities and neighborhoods - especially anything that the "powers that be" (known as the Hand in Beijing according to Meyer) deem smacks of "slums" or "downtrodden" even if it means community to many. In this country, we tend to call this process gentrification.

What Meyer does so well in this book is to give you an idea of the community and the way of life that is a deep part of the "hutongs" - the old parts of Beijing - courtyarded houses and narrow alleyways with local restaurants and retail establishments closeby to serve the community, even as all of it is being threatened with removal and replacement with realtively soulless high rise complexes. He lived in a hutong and taught at a school in such a neighborhood while all of this has been going on - leading up to, of course, a total makeover of the city for the 2008 Olympics.

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