“Where is the market?” inquires the tourist one dark, chilly morning. “Follow the ghosts,” responds the taxi driver, indicating a shadowy parade of overloaded tricycles. “It’s not called the ghost market for nothing!” And indeed, Beijing is nothing if not haunted. Among the soaring skyscrapers, choking exhaust fumes, nonstop traffic jams, and towering monuments, one discovers old Beijing—newly styled, perhaps, but no less present and powerful than in its ancient incarnation. Beijing Time conducts us into this mysterious world, at once familiar and yet alien to the outsider.
The ancient Chinese understood the world as enchanted, its shapes revealing the mythological order of the universe. In the structure and detail of Tian’anmen Square, the authors reveal the city as a whole. In Beijing no pyramids stand as proud remnants of the past; instead, the entire city symbolizes a vibrant civilization. From Tian’anmen Square, we proceed to the neighborhoods for a glimpse of local color—from the granny and the young police officer to the rag picker and the flower vendor. Wandering from the avant-garde art market to the clock towers, from the Monumental Axis to Mao’s Mausoleum, the book allows us to peer into the lives of Beijingers, the rules and rituals that govern their reality, and the mythologies that furnish their dreams. Deeply immersed in the culture, everyday and otherworldly, this anthropological tour, from ancient cosmology to Communist kitsch, allows us to see as never before how the people of Beijing—and China—work and live.
Deeply informed by urban theory and exhibiting an assured feel for the city, Beijing Time paints a vivid picture of Beijing's tumultuous transformations. At once anthropological and historical, and with its sights set on both the official and nonofficial city, on both urban form and urban experience, this book offers a wonderfully textured guide to contemporary Beijing, written with wit and panache. There is simply no other study quite like this.
Beijing Time is an exhaustive, modern portrayal of a city and its people, written with flair from the belly of the Beijing dragon. As China scrubs away the history of the Cultural Revolution and repaints the city in capitalist strokes, old Beijing is being replaced by a more tourism-oriented version… This is a vividly textured account of a city in transition.
Beijing Time is a wide-ranging travelogue that succeeds in capturing the contradictions of what the authors call a 'monstropolis.' They eschew simplification in favor of Beijing's dazzling intricacy… We are shown a city with astonishing human capital, a city where, barely a decade after Tiananmen, the people and the government appear to have reached some tentative concord between dissent and coercion.
This engrossing book merges travel writing, sociology and streetwise reportage. From Mao's tomb to designer malls, karaoke bars to 'Pandaman,' who parodies Olympic hype, these intellectual sleuths search for clues to the hidden city beneath the headline stories. Their Beijing hums with ghosts of the past, as well as with every kind of futuristic dream.
Beijing Time is an intriguing puzzle portrait of pieces of China, from an explication of how Communist construction disrupted the traditional flow of qi through the city to scenes from ragpickers' slums, karaoke bars, 'ghost markets' where collectors search for authentic Maoist ephemera, former factories converted to avant-garde artists' spaces, and a good deal more in only 238 well-illustrated pages. Through it all, China emerges as something quite different from the totalitarian nightmare of some people's fears, something more like the European monarchies of the 19th century where arts, culture and independent thinking flourished alongside the activities of secret police—not a free society in the American sense, necessarily, but one where plenty of people seem to be free just the same, and maybe more free, for the risks they might run, than Americans would give them credit for.
The book starts with Beijing places, beginning of course at the centre of the Chinese universe, Tiananmen Square, and starts to unpack their meanings for people today. It is interspersed with long encounters with interesting, ordinary Beijingers: a policewoman, rubbish sifters, a seedy businessman working contacts in a karaoke joint.
A fascinating cultural mapping of modern Beijing. Here are ring roads that resemble 'successive reworkings of the old city wall'; here is the district for 'saw-gash CDs' (imperfect discs dumped by western record labels on the Chinese market), where the young bob for Sex Pistols albums… The book is a useful street-level corrective to received ideas. In particular, its interviews with citizens—an ex-policeman, scavengers in plastic-bag mountains, luminaries of the art scene, cafe owners who dream of being film directors, members of a kind of granny Neighborhood Watch scheme—are wonderfully humane.
- 288 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8 inches
- Harvard University Press
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