The demolition of old Beijing

A depressing article in the Globe and Mail chronicles how Beijing, paving the way for a shiny new look for the 2008 Olympics, is demolishing a part of its culture.

This isn’t a new story — “progress” has often meant gentrification and the destruction of old neighborhoods, mom-and-pop businesses, etc. What’s depressing is that so much of the destruction in Beijing is simply unnecessary.

When a foreigner tried to buy the two stone lions at the gate of her historic courtyard home, Ms. Zhou stoutly refused to sell. The lions belonged to China, she said.

The local authorities, however, were uninterested in history. A few weeks ago, they sent a bulldozer to demolish Ms. Zhou’s home and the stone lions were smashed into pieces.

“I can’t understand it,” said the 48-year-old nurse, who refused to give her full name. “Those lions belonged to our country. How could they demolish them so easily?”

All along her Beijing street, traditional courtyard houses are being torn down by wrecking crews, despite evidence of their historical importance. With a real-estate boom gaining momentum and the 2008 Olympics approaching, Beijing is rapidly tearing down its famed hutongs — the narrow alleys filled with courtyard houses that are 100 to 400 years old.

The author likens the current destruction to Chairman Mao’s enlightened decision in the 50s to tear down Beijing’s ancient city wall in the name of urban development, and remarks, “Across the city, Beijing has promised to preserve 658 traditional courtyard homes. But more than 50 of these homes have already been torn down, according to Chinese media reports. Heritage activists say they are running from neighbourhood to neighbourhood like firefighters in an effort to save the buildings.”

The Discussion: No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.