Friday, July 30, 2010

CHAI-NA: Parts of Old Beijing Disappear Before our Eyes

is a Chinese character pronounced "CHAI" ...or, for those of you unfamiliar with pinyin: CH, like cheetah, and EYE combined: CH-EYE. The meaning of CHAI is "to take apart or demolish." "CHAI-NA" is an interesting play on words; in cities across China, you frequently come across large piles of rubble where older buildings have been destroyed, as well as construction sites where new buildings are being built.

When most people think of Beijing, the picture that comes to mind (aside from Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City) are the charming Beijing alleys known as hutongs. I've talked about these hutongs many times in previous posts. They offer amazing glimpses into the lives of Beijingers hundreds of years ago, long before the country began to modernize and skyscrapers that can be found in any city around the world began to pop up all across Beijing.

In the English version of China Daily was an ad for a free tour of a local hutong, known as Daji Lane. This was one of the last opportunities to see Daji Lane somewhat intact, as many areas of the hutong have already been marked for demolition. Daji Lane is home to over 30 hutongs, 300 courtyards and 78 provincial guild halls. To say there is a lot of cultural significance is an understatement. Daji Lane was built sometime during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234). In some of the alleys, big character posters from the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) can still be seen stuck to the walls. (Thank you to Beijing Today for much of the above information.)

The tour, by 90 Percent Tours (who I highly recommend), was extremely interesting and gave us a glimpse into several competing perspectives: the need for development, the need for preservation, and the needs of the people living in these areas.

Currently inhabited houses

A remnant of a poster leftover from the Cultural Revolution

Chinese characters saying "you are entering a demolition area, please pay attention to your safety."

Piles of rubble from already-demolished buildings on Daji Lane

Houses marked for demolition which bear the character 冤 YUAN, meaning "INJUSTICE."

Another YUAN photo. It is to our understanding that the residents of houses that have been chosen for demolition are fairly compensated. We've also heard that many of them are forced to move further away from the city center, which means more traffic and inconvenient transportation. Others assure us the government compensates them nicely for their hassle.

A banner posted by the government, assuring residents that if they trust a little more, they will receive benefits earlier.

Through the trees: a glimpse of what is in store for Daji Lane

I hope you enjoyed a glimpse into Beijing's fast-disappearing Daji Lane.



  1. what a good post, thanks for sharing this. It's always fascinating to see how others live.

  2. thanks for all your photos! i feel like i am being opened more to things going on in other parts of the world.

    <3, Mimi

  3. Wow this is amazing. I haven't been back for so long to see these changes to happen with my own eyes. It's always bittersweet to see these old places go

  4. I really like this post. Few people post the gritty realities of cities - and the photos that demonstrate a shift from tradition.

  5. Thanks Veronika and Mimi!!

    Angie - exactly! you really hit the nail on the head.

  6. Wow. Thanks for giving me a glimpse of this. My mother would tell me that she used to live in a village when she lived in Hong Kong as a child. This puts things into perspective. My grandfather actually has a deed to a building somewhere in Hong Kong. It has not been visited in decades. I'm curious as to if it is still standing. I wish I could convince my mom to go back there. Fascinating stuff Steph.


  7. 不拆!!不拆!!不拆!!
    Is so sad, really! And there is so little people can do...

  8. Web Design Beijing, thanks for stopping by! I can't believe you found me! Haha!

  9. Heartbreaking :(

  10. That's rather sad to think they want to destroy something so old -- the one thing I dislike about the US is that nothing is old, and the mentality is to demolish and build new rather than preserve.

    Chic on the Cheap

  11. The wealth of history in China is simply amazing. It must be really neat to see the history in person.

  12. This is indeed sad. Government pretty much overpowers everyone else. When in town, I always make time to visit the Hutong, those that still remain. Again, thanks for sharing (!!)