The Last Days of Old Beijing

The Last Days of Old Beijing

Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of A City Transformed

Book - 2008
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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.
Publisher: New York : Walker & Co., 2008
Edition: 1st U.S. ed
ISBN: 9780802716521
Branch Call Number: 951.156 M613L 2008
Characteristics: vii, 355 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm

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May 05, 2016

I made it through about half of this book and then gave up my patience. The author seemed to be writing a book for architecture (building) enthusiasts who get a thrill from mounds of data about measurements of buildings and such. All throughout the first half of the book I kept HOPING he would stop talking about buildings so much and get down to the human interest side of things.

Don't get me wrong. There IS a human interest side in this book--however it is only sprinkled in amongst the plethora of information about building codes and such (which for me, as someone who is neither a building contractor nor an architect or city planner found it to be ad nauseum).

I finally gave up the 25th time I asked myself, "How can anyone write this many pages about nothing but very dry and uninteresting data regarding buildings and building codes and how many times can he repeat the same thing when talking about how the locals felt about losing their old buildings?"

I had to give up. I don't even WANT to know the human interest stories that may or may not be in the second half of the book. Sorry, but this book was the biggest disappointment in reading I have had in a long time. Previously in the past 7-8 years I have read maybe 8-10 different books about different times and aspects about China.

I don't want to be unfair. Maybe it should just have had subtitle that lets readers know this is a very BUILDING-oriented book. Any bits about the Chinese culture than and now never really felt to go beyond a "tease."

Apr 05, 2010

I'm not done with this yet, but so far it's a really readable combination of history and a ground-level look at life in Beijing. The author has that rare ability to observe without being condescending to his subjects, even when his observations are comic or absurd.


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