Wednesday, February 17, 2010

276) Book: Last Days of Beijing - Michael Meyer

Michael Meyer
Last Days of Beijing
Walker & Company, 2008, Hardcover, 355 pages
ISBN: 0802716520 (isbn13: 9780802716521)

A fascinating, intimate portrait of Beijing through the lens of its oldest neighborhood, facing destruction as the city, and China, relentlessly modernizes.
“The epitaph for old Beijing will read: born in 1280, died in 2008…
what emperors, warlords, Japanese invaders, and Communist planners couldn’t eradicate, the market economy is,” writes Michael Meyer.
A longtime resident, Meyer has, for the past two years, lived as no Westerner ever has—completely immersed in Beijing’s oldest neighborhood, living on one of its famed hutongs and recording the drama as century-old houses and ways of life are increasingly destroyed around him to make way for shopping malls, the capital’s first Wal-Mart, high-rise buildings, widened streets for cars instead of bicycles, and other symbols of today’s urban life.
Beijing has gone through this cycle many times, as Meyer reveals, but never with the kind of dislocation and overturning of its storied culture as is now occurring. The Last Days of Old Beijing is, at once, an invaluable witness to history, a parable about what is lost and gained when a city restructures, and a human portrait of ordinary lives in the balance, as only someone on the inside could relate.
With uncommon insight into Beijing’s past and present, with crystal prose, and at a climactic moment when the world’s attention is on Beijing during the Olympic year, Meyer brings the ebb and flow of daily lives on the other side of the planet into shining focus.

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