|The Last Days of Old Beijing|
by Michael Meyer, published by Walker and Company, New York copyright 2008
While exhibiting at the Marion, Massachusetts Antique Show, and also at the Vermont Antique Dealers Association Show in August, 2009, I realized that everything displayed on my walls had been taken from destroyed houses. I had window frames, doors, exquisite wooden carvings, pole signs, and presentation signs, all of which came from destroyed houses. Looking at what I had hanging in my displays became "bitter/sweet" to me. I cannot sell that which I don't like, and I truly loved the things on display. When I viewed them as small parts of a destroyed house, the sweetness turned to sadness as I generalized from the beauty of the rescued fragments to the imagined beauty of the destroyed house in its prime.
When I shared these thoughts with my customers, many were amazed. It is so hard for people in the United States to imagine being evicted from their houses for no reason other than that the government wants to use the land on which your house stands to construct a new building with a different purpose. It has happened in the United States as well. Recently the United States Supreme Court gave the Town of New London, Connecticut the right to take land from residents unwilling to move. Lest we in the United States feel superior to the Chinese in this regard, Justice O'Connor wrote "….The government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more."
Michael Meyer describes this process in a balanced tone – not a depressing or whining lament. This is fundamentally an entertaining book. It entertains as it illuminates. He describes how he came to live in a "hutong" or old building. (Meyer was an English language teacher) and describes the life style (public toilets, no central heating, inadequate electricity) with detachment and humor. This whole book is a balanced critique of the "modernization" of Beijing. It describes the relocation process and its impact on affected residents.
This book is well written and filled with amusing and interesting anecdotes. Meyer explains a lot without being pedantic.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!