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There he volunteers to teach English at the local grade school and immerses himself in the community, recording with affection the life stories of the Widow, who shares his courtyard; coteacher Miss Zhu and student Little Liu; and the migrants Recycler Wang and Soldier Liu; among the many others who, despite great differences in age and profession, make up the fabric of this unique neighborhood.

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Their bond is rapidly being torn, however, by forced evictions as century-old houses and ways of life are increasingly destroyed to make way for shopping malls, the capital's first Wal-Mart, high-rise buildings, and widened streets for cars replacing bicycles. Beijing has gone through this cycle many times, as Meyer reveals, but never with the kind of dislocation and overturning of its storied culture now occurring as the city prepares to host the Summer Olympics.


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Weaving historical vignettes of Beijing and China over a thousand years through his narrative, Meyer captures the city's deep past as he illuminates its present. With the kind of insight only someone on the inside can provide, "The Last Days of Old Beijing" brings this moment and the ebb and flow of daily lives on the other side of the planet into shining focus.

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This is a stunning, compassionate feat of reportage which will long endure. For the past two years, Michael Meyer has lived and taught in the hutong neighborhoods of Beijing; nobody writing in English knows this world as well as he does.


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  • The Last Days of Old Beijing : Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed.

Through his skillful weaving of his professional experiences with his intimate encounters with neighbors, The Last Days of Old Beijing is as much a chronicle of the physical transformation of the city as it is a tribute to the inhabitants of his beloved hutong. A man who lovingly restored such a dwelling near the Beihai North Sea Park told me that the only element left of the original house was the pomegranate trees in the courtyard. But the leveling of whole stretches of the old city has also had a brutality to it that adds to the sadness one feels over the loss of the features that made Beijing different and special.

No sentimentalist or preservationist ideologue, Meyer acknowledges that Beijing is doing what many other cities have done in the past, even if it is doing it in exceptionally sweeping fashion. Le Corbusier, in his somewhat wistful recollection of a time when democratic procedures were no obstacle to the utopian dreams of architects, could not have anticipated what has happened in China. He was never able to identify just who ran it or the higher authorities who set its policies. Nobody ever seems to see an actual person painting the dread ideogram.

The Hand. The Hand just erased and drew, erased and drew. This means not only that they will no longer live in a familiar neighborhood in a house with rosewood latticework on the windows, shaded by locust or persimmon trees and redolent of memory; they will also be dispersed to some anonymous and sterile high-rise building from which, if they work in the city, it will take them an hour or more by bus to get there.

Michael Meyer (travel writer)

But his case was handled rather gently. He and the developer made their arguments before an arbitrator who awarded him nearly three times the amount originally proposed by the developer. In his treatment of this subject, Pan is less concerned about preserving the charms of an ancient city than with describing the corrupt cooperation of investors and Party officials—in other words in showing how China actually functions—and he reveals much about real estate deals that Meyer found elusive. He does not accept the view, common among Western China experts, that capitalism will inevitably lead to political liberalization in China.


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  8. Pan begins this part of his account, as he usually does, with a real person, Liu Shiru, who was forcibly evicted from a house in the center of Beijing that developers and city officials had earmarked for the construction of a luxury hotel. Liu demanded market value for his house, rather than the fraction of that value being offered by the developer. At one point, Liu was beaten by feuding family members and thugs as a policeman prevented him from running away. He filed lawsuits to no avail until, finally, as he watched disconsolately, his house was demolished.

    But Pan is clear about the underlying secret of her success: her ability to ingratiate herself with Party officials. Her first venture into real estate was a ten-story private club, the first of its kind in Beijing.

    Michael Meyer (travel writer) - Wikipedia

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    BookTV: Michael Meyer, author "The Last Days of Old Beijing"

    Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Explore Now. Buy As Gift. Overview Journalist Michael Meyer has spent his adult life in China, first in a small village as a Peace Corps volunteer, the last decade in Beijing--where he has witnessed the extraordinary transformation the country has experienced in that time.

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    For the past two years he has been completely immersed in the ancient city, living on one of its famed hutong in a century-old courtyard home he shares with several families, teaching English at a local elementary school--while all around him "progress" closes in as the neighborhood is methodically destroyed to make way for high-rise buildings, shopping malls, and other symbols of modern, urban life.

    The city, he shows, has been demolished many times before; however, he writes, "the epitaph for Beijing will read: born , died The tension of preservation vs. About the Author Michael Meyer first went to China in with the Peace Corps, where he lived for two years before moving to Beijing.