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The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the…
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The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City…

by Michael J. Meyer

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I've traveled to Beijing and wandered the old hutongs (alleyways), which led me to purchase and read "The Last Days of Old Beijing." Because of that experience I found the book fascinating, if sometimes frustratingly jam-packed with tangents and miscellaneous information. (Rather like a hutong now that I think of it!)

The author is a fluent Chinese-speaker, having learned the language as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1990s. He returns to China to live in the community of Dazhalan in Beijing, which dates back to the 1400s and contains 114 individual hutongs. Meyer's book documents the destruction of Beijing's historic neighborhoods, which accelerates as the 2008 Olympics approach.

Meyer's writing is at it's most evocative and compelling when he writes about his experience living on Red Bayberry and Bamboo Slanted Street and teaching English at Coal Lane Elementary. The further he goes from his own experience, the more erratic and disjointed his narrative becomes. Even in the face of its flaws, I'd still recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a better sense of what China is like these days. And given the intertwined relationship between the US and China in terms of both finances and world politics, that's more relevant than ever. ( )
2 vote ElizabethChapman | Oct 25, 2009 |
Loved the book! Meyer's style is easy to read and easy to imagine being there. It's sad to learn of the destruction of so many Beijing neighborhoods and how it affected community life. Meyers includes a lot of historical background in each chapter which provides much context. ( )
  chiggins | Oct 4, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802716520, Hardcover)

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.  Nobody has been more aware of this than Michael Meyer. A long-time resident, Meyer has, for the past two years, lived as no other Westerner—in a shared courtyard home in Beijing’s oldest neighborhood, Dazhalan, on one of its famed hutong (lanes). 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.

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 2008 Summer Olympics.           

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:20 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A fascinating, intimate portrait of Beijing through the lens of its oldest neighborhood, Dazhalan. Meyer examines how the bonds that hold the neighborhood together are being torn 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 2008 Summer Olympics--From publisher description.… (more)

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