The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed
Why this book?
Books on Chinese cities by foreigners have long lamented the redevelopment juggernaut’s steamrolling of old buildings and neighborhoods (Juliet Bredon’s Peking for one). Meyer’s exhaustively researched study of the Beijing neighborhood in which he lived in the early 2000s takes this a step further to a grassroots political call for action, before “replicas replace architectural heritage across China.” By illuminating his neighbors’ lives and their histories and reaching back into the city’s past, Meyer attempts to immortalize the disappearing Dashilar neighborhood literally in the form of a book, which if nothing else will be of future documentary value. Driving the old-vs.-new dichotomy too hard, however, obscures the more interesting question of how Chinese cities today are creatively blending the old and the new, as again they have long done in the past. As a longtime Beijing resident, I am stuck with the present and nonetheless find that history doesn’t stop but carries on even in the sleekest brewpubs which will one day in the future be lost to the past.