The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

Description

Product Description

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.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Just in time for the Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Old City''s narrow lanes and shops are being bulldozed and their residents displaced to make way for Wal-Marts, shopping centers and high-rise apartments. Part memoir, part history, part travelogue and part call to action, journalist Meyer''s elegant first book yearns for old Beijing and mourns the loss of an older way of life. Having lived for two years in one of Beijing''s oldest hutongs—mazes of lanes and courtyards bordered by single-story houses—Meyer chronicles the threat urban planning poses not only to the ancient history buried within these neighborhoods but also to the people of the hutong. The hutong, he says, builds community in a way that glistening glass and steel buildings cannot. His 81-year-old neighbor, whom he calls the Widow, had always been safe because neighbors watched out for her, as she watched out for others: the book opens with a delightful scene in which the Widow, a salty character who calls Meyer Little Plumblossom, brings him unsolicited dumplings for his breakfast. The ironies of the reconstruction of Beijing are clear in the building of Safe and Sound Boulevard, which, Meyer tells us, is neither safe nor sound.Meyer''s powerful book is to Beijing what Jane Jacobs''s The Death and Life of Great American Cities was to New York City. 25 b&w photos. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

One of the wonders and terrors of freewheeling capitalism is its dynamism. Old ideas, technologies, and physical structures are swept aside without sentimentality or regard for the human costs. This is especially evident in the rapidly emerging economies of India and China, where the old struggles to coexist with the new. Meyer first went to China as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1995, and he continues to reside in one of the few remaining old neighborhoods in Beijing, one that is clearly doomed, as high-rises, shopping malls, and widened avenues move ever closer. Meyer describes his adopted home ground with a mixture of affection and hard realism. Living conditions are harsh, homes are crowded, the wood in many structures is rotting, and outhouses rather than indoor plumbing are the norm. Yet residents, including Meyer, have a strong and stubborn attachment to their community; he provides touching examples of how many strive to stay put. A wistful, charming paean to a community and way of life that is soon to be swept away in the name of progress. --Jay Freeman

Review

"Meyer''s powerful book is to Beijing what Jane Jacobs''s The Death and Life of Great American Cities was to New York City." —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"An emissary from a nation that routinely junks its own past and starts anew, Meyer finds himself a champion of an unpopular cause."—Holly Brubach, T: The New York Times Style Magazine

"His book reads like a love letter to the hutongs and to Old Beijing itself, a snapshot snatched before the scene disappears forever." —Rob Gifford, Slate Magazine

"A charming memoir and a compelling work of narrative nonfiction about the city itself." —Ian Johnson, Wall Street Journal

"The book...is a delightfully observed view of a vast part of Chinese society that barely was glimpsed during the recent Olympics, yet is fading away."—Kim Ode, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Heartfelt, understated, readable prose." —Utah Daily Herald

"But his history of land development in Beijing, from the time of the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci to Mao to the present, and of attempts in Hanoi, Havana and other Communist cities to preserve their own sense of place, are just as compelling (and sad) to read." —Richard B. Woodward, New York Times Travel Section.

"[A] substantive, smart book...Meyer knows the ins and outs of hutong history because he''s one of the few Westerners to have ever lived in one." —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air

"In "The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed," longtime resident Michael Meyer eloquently portrays the madness of the city during this period." —Karl Taro Greenfeld, Los Angeles Times

"Michael Meyer tells the story of Beijing’s destruction from the perspective of one tiny hutong (narrow lane) neighbourhood to the south of Tiananmen Square where he taught in a school. A spiritedness shines through among his earthy neighbours, even in the face of what Mr. Meyer calls "the Hand", which, visiting always at night, paints the Chinese character for "destroy" on houses that are to be razed." — The Economist

"All in all, his record of the dying ways of a city is an impressive feat." —Kate Sekules, New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Michael Meyer first went to China in 1995 with the Peace Corps. A longtime teacher, and a Lowell Thomas Award winner for travel writing, Meyer has published stories in Time, Smithsonian, the New York Times Book Review, the Financial Times, Reader’s Digest, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune. In China, he has represented the National Geographic Society’s Center for Sustainable Destinations, training China’s UNESCO World Heritage site managers in preservation practices. The Last Days of Old Beijing is his first book.

Product information

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Videos

Help others learn more about this product by uploading a video!
Upload video
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Customers who bought this item also bought

Customer reviews

4.6 out of 54.6 out of 5
82 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Ron Webb
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I loved this book
Reviewed in the United States on July 10, 2013
I have been living in Beijing only seven months but have walked around the Dazhalan neighborhood where Michael Meyer lived in the late 1990''s. It is very much the same today (2013) thanks to economic circumstances and to preservation no doubt inspired by Meyer''s book.... See more
I have been living in Beijing only seven months but have walked around the Dazhalan neighborhood where Michael Meyer lived in the late 1990''s. It is very much the same today (2013) thanks to economic circumstances and to preservation no doubt inspired by Meyer''s book. This book tells the whole story about how Beijing was systematically destroyed, not by a foreign power (although there was some of that), but by the Chinese themselves, in the Boxer Rebellion (1900), the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and most recently, by the quest to make the town more suitable for the Olympics (2008). Meyer tells this story from ground level, and through the eyes of someone who lives there but also has historical and emotional distance. He sees the destruction of the city''s heritage, but also the logic of change. He find the remnants the Old Beijing still alive in 1996 and 2013 ("colors-dull whites and grays, lustrous yellows, imperial reds-and the smell of ashes and age. . . shades and scents of hutong neighborhoods). He tells you the stories behind the places you might visit if you live here, not just temples and monuments. He helps new foreign residents understand Beijing (how did it get this way, and what lies just below the surface). He does impressions, he does history lessons, and he also does diligent research (e.g. reviewing the first comprehensive map of Beijing, every building every street, published in the late 16th century, 500 sheets of paper, showing the Dazhalan neighborhood grid matching the Google Earth satellite image). I loved this book.
2 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
A. Silverstone
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Unique Viewpoint from American Living in Hutong
Reviewed in the United States on April 6, 2009
Michael Meyer has constructed an engrossing book about life in the traditional lower class communities of Beijing. The courtyard houses are subdivided into small one or 2 room dwellings clustered around narrow lanes, hutong in Chinese. They do not have plumbing or even... See more
Michael Meyer has constructed an engrossing book about life in the traditional lower class communities of Beijing. The courtyard houses are subdivided into small one or 2 room dwellings clustered around narrow lanes, hutong in Chinese. They do not have plumbing or even proper kitchens. There are public latrines and bathhouses for taking care of the necessities of life. This is not an easy way of life, at least to Westerners used to a higher standard of living. However, these hutongs thrive with a communitarian spirit that is absent anywhere else in the city. Meyer chronicled his two years of living like no other Westerner, among the poor in the hutong. Despite initial apprehension, his neighbors accept him as their own. Meyer alternates between life in the hutong, teaching English at a neighborhood elementary school and describing the rapid destruction of hutongs, especially in the run up to the Olympics, in the name of "progress" and the loss of the lifestyle associated with them. He also puts it in the context of the greater history of Beijing, and attempts at preservation in China and around the world. This fascinating book gives a realistic view of the hutong life that is rarely seen, even in modern Chinese literature, but in a way that is very approachable for the Western reader. Meyer excels when describing the lives and the travails of himself and his neighbors in the hutong.
4 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
susan mitchell
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A terrific book.
Reviewed in the United States on June 15, 2021
This is a terrific book on the level of both memoir and reflection on urban development and the value added to communities in preserving historic buildings. If you are interested in China and/or urban planning, you will find this a worthwhile read.
Helpful
Report
lms
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A must read before visiting Beijing
Reviewed in the United States on July 26, 2010
This book is a non-fiction memoir, travelogue, and historical work about life in Beijing hutong. Hutong are narrow streets lined with old courtyard homes that are shared by many families and located in central Beijing. Written over the course of several years by an American... See more
This book is a non-fiction memoir, travelogue, and historical work about life in Beijing hutong. Hutong are narrow streets lined with old courtyard homes that are shared by many families and located in central Beijing. Written over the course of several years by an American ex-pat living and volunteering within a community slated for destruction, the book provides a compelling and comprehensive analysis of the current redevelopment situation in the city. The author''s main premise is that the race to redevelop Central Beijing by government and private developers, the city is destroying the fabric of the traditional neighborhood and irreparably damaging the long-term growth of the economy and sustainability of the region. What is being lost is the community feeling, along with the basic functions of the neighborhood, in ways that will have impacts on Beijing, but also China as a whole.

Beijing''s urban renewal program is not a new subject for Western accounts of Chinese growth, nor of Beijing''s efforts to modernize the city. However, the author''s storytelling approach and vibrant writing style are unique and provide a new perspective on the old debate. Unlike other accounts of the hutong destruction or reports of the city''s extensive preparations for the Olympics, which focus on documenting the breadth of the destruction, this book zooms into the fate of one community to tell the story. The author provides personal anecdotes and stories from his time living and teaching in the Fresh Fish Junction area of Beijing to illustrate the impact of the demolitions on individuals. I highly recommend this book.
2 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
maloneranger
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Well-written and researched
Reviewed in the United States on March 22, 2015
Well-written, heartfelt and a very even-handed view without pandering to nostalgia. Also very well researched. I lived in Beijing for 13 months leading up to the 2008 Olympics and wish I had read this book before I got there. I witnessed much of the destruction of the... See more
Well-written, heartfelt and a very even-handed view without pandering to nostalgia. Also very well researched. I lived in Beijing for 13 months leading up to the 2008 Olympics and wish I had read this book before I got there. I witnessed much of the destruction of the hutongs but did not know these intimate and fascinating details. I also like that the author does not over-inflate his situation, regardless of how amazing a feat of day-to-day living it was.
Helpful
Report
Jim McCutcheon
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not going to Beijing? You should still read this book!
Reviewed in the United States on December 2, 2011
"The Last Days" is a real-life drama of both the author who lived there and dedicated years to understanding life in the hutongs of Beijing, and of the residents of this traditional lifestyle neighborhood. Although the story-line centers on Michael Meyer''s own experiences... See more
"The Last Days" is a real-life drama of both the author who lived there and dedicated years to understanding life in the hutongs of Beijing, and of the residents of this traditional lifestyle neighborhood. Although the story-line centers on Michael Meyer''s own experiences while living in a space smaller than many American''s walk-in closets, his weaving together of the histories of both the hutong''s and of China in general produces a depth of understanding for the reader that other travel writers can only dream of creating. The book has plenty of facts and statistics for those readers who need that type of information - Mr. Meyer obviously had done his homework and then some. For me, though, what made the book compelling were the life stories of his neighbors, from school children, to the wise elderly widow, to the man who could and did recycle everything for a living. In no uncertain terms he relates the frustrations of the few native Chinese who recognized that destruction of the hutongs destroys a piece of everyone''s cultural foundations, and who sought to stop the work of The Hand that mysteriously identified buildings for destruction. Although the edition I read contained the 2009 epilogue, I''d love to read "Part 2" of the story to learn what has happened in the last few years.
If you plan on visiting Beijing, please read this before you go and then arrange a tour through one of the hutongs before they are all razed. If you are not going to Beijing, read the book for the insights it provides into a culture that is struggling to maintain a respect for its history while becoming a super-power in the 21st century.
2 people found this helpful
Helpful
Report
V. Mac
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Last Days of Old Beijing
Reviewed in the United States on October 7, 2011
This book is both what I hoped for and what I hoped it wouldn''t be. There are very interesting stories of the author''s experiences in Beijing, however, there is a plethora of information about other cities, other countries, that is quite dull reading. Too much information... See more
This book is both what I hoped for and what I hoped it wouldn''t be. There are very interesting stories of the author''s experiences in Beijing, however, there is a plethora of information about other cities, other countries, that is quite dull reading. Too much information is almost as bad as not enough.

I am glad to have this book and even if I knew about all the extra info, I would still buy it. The service was very good and the book is in excellent condition.
One person found this helpful
Helpful
Report
Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Informative
Reviewed in the United States on June 17, 2013
Had to get it for my Legal Studies Chinese Law Class because it was going to be on my final. It was actually a good and informative read. It really gives a good look into contemporary Chinese government/law/culture and a good way for ignorant Americans to learn how Chinese... See more
Had to get it for my Legal Studies Chinese Law Class because it was going to be on my final. It was actually a good and informative read. It really gives a good look into contemporary Chinese government/law/culture and a good way for ignorant Americans to learn how Chinese citizens are just like us ignorant Americans : victims of the government.
Helpful
Report

Top reviews from other countries

Ian Kennedy
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
one of the best books on Beking I''ve read
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 9, 2009
If you want a tourist guide don''t buy this book. This is probably one for people really interested in the Chinese people (every day folk)not China. The author''s total immersion system gives him a genuine view and experience of what it is like to live in a Beijing Hutong,...See more
If you want a tourist guide don''t buy this book. This is probably one for people really interested in the Chinese people (every day folk)not China. The author''s total immersion system gives him a genuine view and experience of what it is like to live in a Beijing Hutong, among the lower social classes who scrape a living but are full of life and character. It gives an insiders view of a community. Their fears for the future and their struggles with authority. The ever present threat of demolition and relocation. The efforts of individuals to record or stop the wholesale desecration of a city. Meyer writes with great sensitivity and insight. I hope he writes another. Having seen the interview on youtube it would be a real treat to meet him and have him guide you around Beijing.
3 people found this helpful
Report
J
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Worth reading
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 21, 2017
A fascinating book that helps to put a face to policy in contemporary China. Thoughtful and engaging, the book touches on many issues, not just the demise of the hutong.
Report
PHaire
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Especially when the exchange rate was so good.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 20, 2014
About stuff they''''ve probably knocked down already. Hey.....you should a gone in the 00''s. Especially when the exchange rate was so good.
Report
Katerina
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Insightful look at Beijing''s Hutong life
Reviewed in Australia on January 7, 2019
I read this while travelling in Beijing. It provides a wonderful insight into Hutong living and provided a better starting point for my daily walks through them. The mix of history and current impacts makes this a good read for anyone spending time in Beijing.
Report
Suzanne Australia
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book
Reviewed in Australia on August 10, 2015
I really enjoyed this book. It started me wanting to read more about China. The author has a very interesting viewpoint as he lived in parts of the city being destroyed. He also linked it to many other big cities in the world. This is a worthwhile read. .
Report
See all reviews
Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Customers who viewed this item also viewed

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?

Brief content visible, double tap to read full content.
Full content visible, double tap to read brief content.

Pages with related products.

  • urban geography

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life online in the Vanishing Backstreets lowest of a City Transformed sale