Although here as in Beijing, these single-story historic 'hutong' districts were levelled wasteland half the time, making way for the vertical villages that seem the only option with society on this scale. We cycled through seeing old bits of furniture standing resolute amid the acres of rubble. This loss, growth or rejuvenation, as depending on standpoint, is complete and systematic here. It happened throughout the old cities of Europe, but there more organically and in times far before common global travel and the phone camera. In Beijing, these Hutong districts form the cultural and tourist, where compact life continues in the shadow of the Forbidden City. These districts sprung up with the movement of the Capital 500 years ago, their people were the very extended entourage of the Imperial Court. The Immediate bloc south of the Palace still have representative communities, elsewhere a few of the other hutongs have been spared demolition, and are now exceedingly hip craft beer bars, cafes or ceramic boutiques.
Artistry in hutong's south of Tianemen, stone carving 5 million dollar piece, as fine an art as I've seen anywhere so far. Rob has calligraphy lessons, Paintbrush sets going for tens of thousands of dollars, tea bags for almost thousands too. Money swelling around here.
Mao's english textbook, sentences in english matched to wild swans and little red book, not comfortable in buying english version somehow.
Time honoured brands are a sponsored reemergance on Beijing's Oxford Street, where quality indepedence ad heritage was abhorrent and quashed in the cultural revolution to now where it is teasure in fawning official plaqes. They seem to have found each consumer good and foodstuff and hunted and glorified a single old merchant house for shoes, silk, jewelry, painting, calligraphy cinema, quangjude duck - maybe mention breast piece, dumplings, tea, etc. They had the approximate heritage value of Fortnums, Harrods, Hamelys and Lilly Whites, but it was lost and for the good of the chinese honour state it must now be found again. The dominance of Western high end brands visible on people and on street corners, where Luis Vuitton has a whole chinese line excludes HK and Taiwan on the t shirt, West is Best cultural mentality, attitude of competitive luxury purchases - so very far away from the originally noble and then malignant communist values of the mid 20th century.
Swell of money could be felt bubbling up in the brewpubs and craft beer bars, where he fridge looked like my Amsterdam high quality offie, they had a 330ml bottle of imported stout for 50 dollars. It was at times difficult to find anything made this side of Istanbul. Live music in the bar was Chinese Blues sung in mandarin, but for the language could have been anywhere in West, upsetting in a way. With such comprehensive globalisation, does travelling then become more important?
It was in the finest of these hutong craft beer bars Long March Brewery that we had a fine conversation with three young architects, one was half american who acted as somewhat of a cultural and linguistic go between. Conversation brushed over niceties before diving into the meatier topics, Rob had introduced me as a journalist after all, we discussed the reclamation fo chinese art, looted or 'purchased' in 19th century, spate of hollywood super heist finest museums of Britain and France only concerning Ming era chinese art. Or patriotic purchase of antiques by Chinese billionaires, 40 odd million dollars for a single teacup most notceable example. After explaining British museum view of remainder of these items were destroyed in the cultural revolution, then this is fillng in their own history having rampaged their own. Argument was taken this is my phone, it is my right to destroy it, you have no right to steal. My apparent moral highground of we being humans first and chinse or british later, this being priceless human art and so should mrely kpet in safest place ad best condition for future human generations... always hard to argue with pure humanism.
Judgement of Mao, must bedone as an emperor not a conventional political leader, classic consensus of good in the beginning in making China sand on its own two feet but as ever problematic in relinquishing power. Where a good leader becomes a great one is how they give up power. They then asked for my reflection on Xi Jinping and Chinese political system, far sightedness of Belt and Roads policy, meritocratic system for chinese administrators which is direct descendent of imerial civil service exams which have existed for millenia, but again problem with Xi giving up power?
They didn't seem too guarded or too worried in their comments and seemed to speak from the heart. This is inline with what our host Jacob said, who is a teacher at a Bejing university best factoids over censorship and class monitors an class rebels. Propaganda or nascent nationalism has been remarkably effective, dissent is dismissed as juvenile or simplistic by the population themselves. Reminds of Wild Swans who thought all children in West were starving or put to work.
National museum, queuing outside for almost an hour only with chinese people. soaaring museum ceilings impressive nature of building. Two exhibit structure, first discuss complete lack of emphasis in last 500 years. Second actively designed not for foreigners with translations of only subjective rather than bjective descriptions. Couldn't seem to find any mention of foreign liberators vs Japanese at end of WW1, or any mention of Great Leap forward starvation, official story is mantianed at least here. Versus Jacob said to Trumpy, bide your time get to official statistics and platform and then do something like publishing a revisionist history of great leap forward. But we rewrite our own histroys too most noticeably British imperial revisionism to inclde role in african genocides and Indian famines.
Set out from the city with the firm intention of coming back, there is so much more to come from Beijng's history and its future.
4 days sprint through idyllic constructed riverside park, with gigantic flower foam displays and trees boosted with IV drips, stte size leisue material, just couple of hours away from Beijing population. Water park horrible atificial reality grimy chemical water and flesh eating fish, rife for veruccas, made me long for Kyrgstan mountain lakes. Trucks road through port, some of grimmest industrial cycling so far, the sky a permanent ashen grey for several days. Experts at sneaking on to expressways over and under barbedwire and stanchions, passing panniers lie rugby balls. Into Qingdao, first hotel firs police contact, on eve of leaving the country. All in after a 5 day marathon, just 20 mins in time for the ferry boarding, final emotional leg into the last type of Asia, when pink in sky finally came out.