Mr. Zhang lives in his Hutong house since 1955. The houses were built by state-owned enterprises at the time. These state-owned enterprises have been closed for many years now and Mr. Zhang lost his job then and never worked again. Mrs. Liu (Mr. Zhang’s wife) and neighbor Mrs. Yang also lost their job back then and are unemployed as well. All three live on government subsidies (*).
Mr. Zhang never worked again because of his high blood pressure and diabetes, he says.
Mr. Zhang’s house is in a central area of Beijing, with very high prices for the land. Often rumors go that the government is planning to clear the area for new a new development project, but so far nothing has happened. However, this also goes for the maintenance of the area. There is a tall dead tree standing, just meters away from Mr. Zhang’s home. Residents here have reported this threat to relevant government department for several times, but no one has taken action to solve this problem.
Mr. Zhang says that people in the neighborhood are very close to each other. The neighborhood has no contact with people working in the surrounding “tea street” (the largest concentration of tea traders in Beijing) as most of them are not originally from Beijing.
Mr. Zhang says that he feels a great emotional connection with this place, as he lived here since he was young. But if he would have the money, he would be happy to move to a modern high-rise building, maybe in one of the suburbs. He says this is his personal view, because he is getting tired of the noisy environment in the district. Both Mrs. Liu and Mrs. Yang agree with him and would move to a high-rise building as well if they could afford it. Not because the quality of the older buildings is bad; Mr. Zhang points at one of the buildings surrounding the Hutong area: “That building is old, but it survived the Tangshan earthquake” (in 1976).
(*) In 2003, China experienced a wave of privatizations of state-owned enterprises. As a result many workers were laid off. Most young workers received severance packages. Older employees often opted for receiving a basic, and usually unchanged, monthly payment until their retirement. As this payment is very basic and not corrected for inflation, it may not be enough to cover for basic living expenses. This caused several stirs in the past. Citizens who are too old to work or are in real need for money now may seek help from the local community that can provide a small amount per month to ensure a minimum living standard. In Beijing this amount is approximately 400 RMB per month.