Beijing, Legal proceedings

 

We walk in XiCheng district at a place were a few years ago you could walk through old hutongs. The residents have all been relocated to suburbs and the place is now a construction site of mid- to high-end apartments for retired government officials.

 

Mr. Huang Genhua approaches us. He asks if we are journalists. “No, we are not”. He likes to tell us his story anyway; for this blog. Knowing that a published story with his photo could cause him problems, we ask him again and he insists that is what he wants.

 

In 2005, Huang Genhua worked as a foreman at a construction site in Hebei. At a given moment the boss refused to pay the workers. Mr. Huang then paid the workers himself, but the boss still owns him 5,000 RMB.

 

According to Mr. Huang, he started a legal action against his boss in a local court. However, the court ruled before the scheduled proceedings without hearing him. The court ruled that his boss only needs to pay him 1,000 RMB. Mr. Huang appealed and when to an intermediate court. The judge in that court confirmed the ruling of the local court and asked Mr. Huang to apologize to his boss. When he attempted to continue legal proceedings, the court terminated the case.

 

Up to now he never received the 1,000 RMB his former boss should have paid him according to the court ruling.

 

Mr. Huang felt the treatment by the court was unfair. He claims that his former boss settled the matter with the judge by treating the judge with a dinner.  It is for this reason, he said, that the judge ruled before the scheduled proceedings that never took place. Now he has come to Beijing to start legal proceedings against the court.

 

Mr. Huang tells us that he needs exposure in the media and repeatedly stresses that he has all the evidence needed to confirm of what he said.

 

Finally, Mr. Huang and two of his friends show us some bruises and scratches. Mr. Huang says they were beaten up three days ago because he did not let go of the case.

 

 

 

Beijing, Little Umbrella Kindergarten

 

There are three kindergartens in Huang Gang village, a poor residential area in the north of Beijing.

 

The Little Umbrella Kindergarten is located in a hutong and takes care of children from migrant workers who live in the village. The 300 square meter large kindergarten is, according to the teachers, positioned in the mid-range. Not as good as in the urban area, but better than average.

 

 

We talked with two teachers in this kindergarten: Mr. Gu Yunhe and Mrs. Gao Yanbo.

 

Little Umbrella, established 2.5 years ago, is a private kindergarten for children of parents who both work during the day. All of the parents are so called migrant workers, originating from other provinces. This means there is a high turnover as parents move between different cities for work.

 

 

The kindergarten functions more like a day care center than a school, although there is some basic education. The children learn songs, counting, Chinese language and some simple English words and sentences. The kindergarten does not keep student files.

 

 

We visited the kindergarten in February while many parents and children were still in their hometowns enjoying the yearly Spring Festival holiday with their families. At our time of visiting there were only 17 children, all in one class. The oldest kid among them is six, while the youngest is just 2. In March, when all the children have returned, the children will be divided into different classes, according to their age.

 

 

Parents don’t have to pay an extra fee to this private kindergarten for not having a Beijing residency permit (hukou). Because of the high turnover, the tuition fee is charged by month. The 200 RMB per month includes lunch, which is prepared by the teachers.

 

 

We see a little red bucket in the classroom. It’s for the young children, because they are too young to use the public toilet. Older children are accompanied by a teacher when they have to visit the public toilet (in villages like Huang Gang there are no toilets inside buildings because of a limited sewage network).

 

 

The children are wearing coats inside the classroom while an electric heating fan provides some warmth. When it gets colder, the air conditioner and coal fired stoves will be used for heating.

 

 

 

Beijing, A walk in the Seven Trees Village

 

Over the past two decades, Beijing’s urbanization has developed in a rapid pace. You can drive from the center to any direction for more than an hour and you will see new high rise buildings everywhere. Just 15 years ago the third ring road (built in 1994) was more or less the border of the developed area. Now there is a 6th ring road and development has expanded even beyond this ring (that is already up to 40 km away from the center of Beijing).

 

In between areas with modern buildings and infrastructure, you can still find villages in rural areas of the city. Many of them disappeared over the years, while others have grown into housing areas for migrant workers. Often the facilities are poor and so is the quality of the houses. We’ve visited many of these places and noticed that some villages are upgraded with modern public toilets (houses do not have toilets in these areas) and the renewal of basic infrastructure facilities like water supply and sewage systems. In other villages the basic facilities are clearly in decline, in some cases because the area will be demolished to make way for new development.

 

 

Seven Trees is one of the villages in a rural area between the 4th and the 5th (East) ring roads. We walked around and talked with residents.

 

Mr. He Mingyong is from Chongqing, He lives in a house at a narrow hutong with his wife and son. His father is currently staying with them. He came over for a 2 month stay and celebrated the Chinese New Year together with his son’s family.

The, less than 30 m2, house has two bedrooms and in the middle a small place for cooking and doing the laundry.

 

They fire coal for cooking and for the heating during the winter. The rent for this apartment is 450 RMB/month.

 

Mr. He came to Beijing 2,5 years ago. He makes a living with fine art decorations in houses under renovation. At the moment he is doing work in the house as he has not found a new assignment yet after the Spring Festival vacation. Mr. He tells that the payment for his work is almost the same in Chongqing and Beijing, but Beijing offers more opportunities and that’s why he chooses to stay in Beijing.

 

The son of Mr. He is nine years old and goes to a primary school in the neighborhood. Because the family does not have a Beijing hukou, they have to pay 3000 RMB more for their son to enter the school.

 

 

 

We enter a big house with a courtyard in the middle. Arranged on both sides of the courtyard are small one-family rooms.

 

 

One of the residents, a lady, tells us that more than ten families live inside this house. The landlord lives in another house in the same village. The lady comes from Sichuan and is, like Mr. He, making money with decorating renovated houses.  She tells that residents in the area originate from all parts of China.

 

Her room consists of two bunk beds and a stove, coal fired, for heating and cooking.

 

 

A worker, from Henan province, attracts our attention. He is disassembling and recycling parts of a car radiator and wearing a pair of special clogs we’ve never seen before.

He tells that he is wearing clogs from Henan province. They are called “Grass Boots”, because they used to be made of dry grass. Nowadays, people use cotton and cloth to make this kind of clogs. The surface of the clogs are prepared with Tung oil (extracted from the seed of the nut of the Tung tree). The clogs have thick soles made of wood. Though they may look awkward, the wooden soles are pretty light. The worker loves his clogs because they are warm, solid and durable. Grass Boots, he says, are very suitable for work and can last for more than 5 years. The price of these clogs in Henan is 50RMB.

 

 

We pass a group playing mahjong and then talk to two women, both from Henan. Soon they will start preparing the land around their house. They will grow vegetables like tomatoes, beans and pepper. In the summer they don’t need to go to the market to buy vegetables. The land will produce enough for their families.

 

 

A little bit further down the road we meet a guard who comes from Qinhuangdao (a city in Hebei province). In a few days he will retire and return to his hometown. He is carrying a pickaxe. He tells that some people were building illegal houses in the area and that he and his colleagues were asked to demolish them.

 

 

 

Beijing, Mrs. Zhang

Mrs. Zhang delivers a daily newspaper in a hutong area just Southeast of Tiananmen square. She attracts our attention because of the baby buggy she is using for her work. It’s the type of buggy that several people we interviewed in the past year refer to when talking about their childhood memories.

 

Mrs. Zhang made the buggy herself. It is made of rattan and she has been using it for 7 years. The wheels are not rolling very smooth anymore but she will keep on using it until they really don’t roll anymore. At home she has a spare buggy that is also made by herself.

 

As a mother Mrs. Zhang used a similar baby buggy. Her children used to sit on each side of the buggy and she would put up a board between them to function as a table at which her children could eat and play.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beijing, Mr. Xue Guoliang

 

Mr. Xue Guoliang is one of the artists working for Gift of Hope; a social enterprise run by disabled people producing traditional Chinese artworks. We talked with Mr. Xue and Mrs. Li Meixin, the director of the company, about Mr. Xue’s life.

Mr. Xue is 55 years old and lived all his life in Beijing. He is disabled since he was 1 year old and makes a living as a chop (seal / printing stamp) carving artist. Mr. Xue used to be a player in the Chinese national team for wheelchair basketball.

 

You grew up Beijing. In this area or ..?

I’ve been around this area since I was born. Where I grew up is quite close to here. I have never left the Xicheng District ever since my birth. I used to live around Xidan and I moved to this place when the old houses in Xidan were demolished.

 

Did you grow up in a hutong area?

Yes.

 

When you were one year old, what happened to you?

I was sick; I had a high fever. Since then my legs are not good anymore. It was because of the fever, I guess, but who knows. Until now I am not sure what the cause was. Anyway my legs have been treated all the time but were never cured. So there’s nothing to do about it. Let it be.

 

What school did you go to when you were young?

I attended a normal school just like the other, healthy, children; we studied together. There are special schools, but they are mainly focusing on mentally disabled children, the deaf-mute and the blind. There’s nothing wrong with my intelligence, so I went to normal schools.

 

How did you learn to move?

It was surely difficult to learn it, but I just had to learn. Actually I began to walk with crutches when I attended primary school. Before that I stayed at home and never went outside alone. I just sat on the bed. Back then my mom was still young. Sometimes she sat at the door holding me in her arms. Usually I went out with my mom holding me. Then I was about to go to school and I could not let her carry me anymore, so I began to learn walking with crutches.

 

What memories do you keep of that period?

I keep some memories. At that time there was a baby buggy, not as fancy as the baby buggies nowadays. Back then the baby buggy was made from bamboo and it could carry two kids.

It was made from rattan. It was quite fancy, at least for that time. Contrary to these days, back then rattan was not considered a good material. The baby buggy was used for many years. It had space for two kids and there were four kids in my family. I always sat in that baby buggy. Often someone would push me forward, either my elder brother or my younger sisters. When I was a little older, I could lean on the handrails and slide with my feet touching the ground.

 

Meixin (while drawing the baby buggy): There was a board in the middle. You could put it up and use it as a table. When the babies felt tired you could move the board down; creating a place to sleep for them.

(The buggy on this photo, taken in 2006, is not exactly the same as described, but gives an idea)

So the babies could sleep. And when the board was put up the babies could eat on it. I think that kind of baby buggy was pretty nice. Now you can’t find it anymore.

 

Meixin: If you go outside of the fourth or fifth ring road you can still see them.

 

You were always inside when you were young. Did you develop any special fantasies?

Fantasies at that time? I can’t remember. I didn’t have many fantasies back then. Kids didn’t know anything. I always stayed inside and had little contact with the outside world. I think what I thought about most were my legs. I did not know it was a sickness. I was wondering why other people could run and I could not.

 

Then you entered primary school.

During primary school I just attended classes and there was nothing special. There were a lot of children of my age. I already liked making stuff with my hands at that time. I liked it ever since I was very little. So my classmates and kids from the neighborhood all came to me and asked me to make stuff. At that time we were short of toys at home and we had to make everything ourselves, like catapults, paper planes and peg-tops; nobody went to buy toys. I also liked to disassemble things.

 

 

How many kids were there in your class?

Above 40 kids were in the class.

 

Did you get any special treatment in the class?

I have a special memories to that period, because one teacher who taught us had the same problem with his legs as I do. Because there was also something wrong with his own body, he paid special attention to me. I haven’t seen him since I graduated from primary school but I still remember him. I keep no memory of other teachers. It is only in recent years that I recall pieces of memory to those days.

 

When you were in primary school, was there someone in your environment giving you guidance for your future life?

I would say yes. It was the same teacher, Mr. Du. He told me to master some handicraft next to taking the compulsory courses; to learn skills that can make a living. At the time I did not fully understand what he meant by saying that. It was a good advice. Back then jobs were arranged when one graduated, but nowadays everyone has to look for a job himself.

Following his advice anyway, the first thing I learned was repairing shoes.

 

How did you fit in your surroundings as a child?

I had little contact with the society back in those days. I had almost no friends at school; nobody talked to me, not even my teachers. Besides attending classes, I had no other activities at all. They would not include me when they had activities because I was not able to do anything.

 

Only with your brother or your younger sisters?

Yes, just with my brother and sisters. You know they say: “children speak the truth”. When I was little, kids from the neighborhood would not dislike or avoid me because of my handicap. But when we grew older … I will not say they disliked me or avoided me, but they just stopped inviting me to join them.

I made some stuff at home to entertain myself. For instance, I would make some paper-cut. There was nothing much to do. Since I was good at making stuff, some kids came to me saying “Go to Wuliang’s, he can make these things.” At those moments I did not feel I was disabled and I played together with other kids.

 

Often when kids enter their adolescent years, they have a period where they rebel against their parents. Did you have that period as well?

With my physical conditions… No I didn’t. You need to be qualified enough to rebel.

 

Or maybe later?

It’s hard to say anything about rebellion. Back then, based on my physical conditions, I accepted whatever they arranged for me. I was not able to arrange for myself. There was nothing to do about it.

Besides, people at that time … China was isolated then and we knew little about the outside world. These days, young people know a lot and think a lot. In our time people did not think much. They focussed on going to school, graduating and finding a job.

 

Social life was difficult in your youth. How was it when you grew into your twenties?

I had even less social activities in my twenties. Due to my physical condition, I could not join them easily, for instance when they wanted to climb the Xiangshan Mountain. So little by little I lost my contacts.

 

How did you meet your wife?

We were introduced by a mutual friend.

 

Did it change your life a lot after that?

That is for sure. Marriage changes one’s life. We got married several months after we met.

Unfortunately she passed away, eight years ago.

 

 

What was the best time in your life so far?

Each period of my life has its own merits and is not comparable with other periods. Talking about happiness, of course I enjoyed the freedom before marriage, when I could do whatever I liked. After marriage it became impossible to be free like that. After marriage my life was not easy due to my physical condition. For instance, I have two kids and at that time I often had to bring them to the hospital.

 

You have a daughter of 23, and?

And a son of 20. In general there is happiness in the bitterness and bitterness in the sweet. Talking about beautiful days, I would say the best days were those when I was playing basketball. I was in a wheelchair basketball team.

 

Meixin: He used to be in the national team.

I started playing in 1984 and I played for about 15 or 16 years.

 

Do you have a defining time in your life? A time where found answers on how to deal with your life and future?

I thought a lot when I was jobless. That was from my 16th to my 20th. Questions like: “What can I do with this life as a handicapped” where confronting me.  I didn’t have much to compete with other people. But then I learned how to carve chops. Before that I only made simple things for fun, but this was a serious craft to learn. But I didn’t learn it to survive. I learnt this in the first place because I like it. Due to my physical condition, I could not compete with others in most professions. For instance I learned carpentry at school, but people told me it was useless for me to learn it because I would not be able to make a living with it. So at that moment I started thinking what I could really do. I chose this. Is suits me well because you can only do this work while sitting.

 

How long have you been doing this?

Around 30 years, but not constantly. I started learning this handicraft before I got married. After I got married, I had more family responsibilities; but I never dropped my trade completely.

 

What other crafts did you practice?

I’ve done a lot! Like this table and this closet, I made them myself. I even made my own vehicle for moving around.

 

(Looking at one of the chops) You are also selling these via “Gift of Hope”, right?

Meixin: Yes. He is very popular when we get a group of tourists. We present his art at different occasions. When tourists come, we arrange a specific time and we bring him to the tourists in their hotels. We will tell them background stories and tell that if they want to have a Chinese souvenir, this is something meaningful. We also sell other souvenirs, but his artworks can only be sold when he is present (because of the personal inscriptions), so we bring him to the tourists.

 

You are carving ancient characters. Recently, we saw an exhibition at Caochangdi where the artist carved these ancient Chinese characters from the Xi Xia language.

The Xi Xia language is older than the Xiao Zhuan (“small seal script”) that I use, according to the stages of the Chinese calligraphy. Xiao Zhuan is the so-called “Qin Zhuan”. There were many countries in ancient China, each country had a different calligraphy and thus each written word had many different shapes. Since the Qin united China, calligraphy was also united and Xiao Zhuan was defined as the standard one. All the calligraphy before Xiao Zhuan is called Da Zhuan.

 

Would you tell us a bit about your current interest?

At the moment this (chop carving) is my only interest, nothing else. Now I am too old to learn anything new, so I just want to go deeper in chop carving, either taking it as a hobby or as an inner resource.

 

If you don’t work on this, what else do you do?

I really don’t have other hobbies.

 

If you turn on the television, what is your favorite program?

I prefer those programs from which you can gain knowledge. For instance, Animal World, Discovery and Legend – these are my favorite channels. Those TV soap series are not for me.

I like working with my hands, so I also like reading or watching stories about small inventions. I enjoy watching other people inventing strange and small stuff.

 

Do you watch basketball on TV?

I also watch the sports channel and I enjoy watching basketball on television, like the NBA. When I was in the wheelchair basketball team, we also had to watch the regular basketball games to study the strategies. So when I watch basketball games, I am not so concerned with the results, instead I pay more attention to the teamwork. This has become a habit. In the wheelchair basketball team we made videos of games and then watched and learned the strategies and teamwork from other teams.

 

 

When you were a member of the national basketball team, have you also traveled outside China?

Of course. But I’ve only traveled to Japan and Thailand.

 

Do you still have contact with your old teammates?

Yes, we meet several times a year.

 

How do you compare the chances that modern society provides to handicapped people with 20 years ago?

The difference is huge; it is much better now. Back then there wasn’t any special offering from the society, but now the handicapped are all protected. The local community services can help those among the handicapped who are jobless by arranging jobs for them, getting them insured and making sure that they have something to rely on when they are old. I think the situation will further improve in the future.

The situation has improved step by step. When I graduated from school I had no job, and I waited for four years until the community service arranged a job for me. That was around 1980. As the society further developed, the treatment by the society of the handicapped has become really good. All the handicapped people around me have a job and labor insurance.

 

What do you feel is most important at this stage in your life?

Now my two kids are grown-ups. I hope that they can find good jobs and that I can have a comfortable late life.

 

Do you have a set of principles or values that you tried to transmit to your children?

My children don’t want what I try to transmit to them. I asked them to practise calligraphy and they didn’t listen; I asked them to learn my craft and they rejected too. They must have their own ideas, which are probably better than mine. I told my kids that a family like ours owes a lot to the society, to our families and to the cadres. When my wife got cancer, for example, we were in need of a lot of money and they provided it for us. So I told my children that they should repay the society when they grow up. I will just stick to my work and be useful at this age.

 

Most of the time you work at home. When do you go out ?

I go outside very frequently. I don’t like staying at home alone.

I don’t have a schedule, but I keep a habit of taking a walk every day. I walk for about one hour a day to stay fit. I mean I walk with my crutches, not with my motorbike; I walk to exercise.

 

What do you focus on for the future?

I still want to focus on my chop carving. This is not only work; when I carve a nice chop, I also feel accomplished and fulfilled. It is not a mechanical work; it includes making designs and applying patterns. Like painting, chop carving can be inspiring.

 

And how to you imagine yourself in 20 years?

20 years? Do I still have 20 years to live?

I can’t imagine that far. I think I will probably just stick to chop carving for the rest of my life.

 

Maybe you’ll live with one of your children?

I don’t expect that, because I don’t want to live with them. Many families suffer from conflicts between parents and their children because they live together. I don’t want to get there. Living alone is not that bad.

 

How do your children feel about it?

I didn’t ask them about it. They will surely have their own homes after marriage. My daughter will be married and my son too, and they have to look for houses of their own. My daughter is living with me and my son is living with my mother at the moment, because my mother was living alone and likes to have company and because my house is really small.

 

Before you lived with the whole family, the four of you, in this house?

Yes, we lived here together. My children were still small back then, so we extended that bed (pointing to a 2nd bed in the room) to fit for the two of them and I shared this bed with my wife.

 

Text and photos © Anton Hazewinkel 2012

 

 

Beijing, Mr. Wang and Mrs. Li

 

Mr. Wang Longsheng and Mrs. Li Yanhong are a couple from Shaanxi. They are employed by the government to clean the streets in the Lidu area of Beijing.

 

Their working hours are from 6 am to 5 pm every day of the week. Their total income is 3,000 RMB per month. The government is providing them with a house and a big courtyard where they can sort and store the waste they collect during the day. As they don’t have to pay for rent, they can save money. For their living expenses they need 300 RMB per person per month.

 

Mr. Wang and Mrs. Li seem to get along very well. When we ask them “what is the secret of a happy marriage”, Mr. Wang tells us that they have been together for 19 years without a single fight. Whenever they have a difference of opinion, they will imagine themselves in the position of the other and try to understand where he/she is coming from.

 

Mr. Wang invites us to their house. The family is living in a quiet hutong. The house is spacious and has a proper heating in the winter. In front of the house is a park along a river.

 

Like in many houses in hutongs, there is no bathroom. They have to use the public toilet and for a shower they visit a public bathhouse. They prefer to pay 20 RMB for the shower instead of the regular 10 RMB. For 20 RMB you get a private room for two (two men or two women; there are no bathhouses with mixed gender sections).

 

Their 18 year old son is living together with them. He graduated in his hometown in Shaanxi province and then came to Beijing for work. He occasionally has part-time jobs, but currently he is unemployed. He spends most of his time chatting and playing games online. Sometimes, he also does sit-ups to work out.

He dyed his hair orange. According to him, it is quite popular among young people to do so.

At high school he shared the classroom with 60 to 70 other students. Almost all of his classmates went to big cities or are planning to do so. Except for the ones with the highest marks; they went to university.

 

 

When we are visiting Mr. Wang, we meet his mother and mother in law. They are visiting Beijing for a couple of weeks. Their husbands had to stay home to take care of the corn fields in their hometown.

 

According to Mr. Wang, they all enjoy their lives in Beijing. Thinking of what they miss most, the answer is (like we heard from many people originating from Shaanxi) the Yangrou Paomo, the famous dish with pita bread soaked in lamb soup.

 

 

 

Beijing, Hotel near the Military General Hospital of the Beijing PLA

 

There are always cheap hotels around hospitals in Beijing. Patients in Beijing hospitals come from all over the country. It is not uncommon that patients have to wait a few days before a bed is available in the hospital. Usually family members take care of their ill relatives by bringing them food or taking them to appointments with doctors.

 

In Cangnan Hutong, near Dongsishitiao, we find this hotel near The Military General Hospital of the Beijing PLA (People’s Liberation Army). The entrance of the hotel is on the street opposite to the hospital, the hotel rooms are in the basement.

 

According to the people working in the hotel, most people staying in the hotel are visitors of the hospital who need to accompany patients in the hospital, and they come from everywhere in China. Most of the guests in the hotel are poor; some of them peasants. The hotel is almost always fully booked. The average price in this hotel is around 40 to 50 RMB for one person per bed and per night.

 

 

 

Hutongs

 

Several posts have been written in this blog about hutongs or nong tangs and we will continue to do so in different contexts. While the previous posts where all written within the context of China’s changing social environment with the hutong symbolizing the (disappearing) tradional way of life in China, today it is just about the romantic feelings of nostalgia that capture so many visitors to hutong areas.

 

On the left a resident is spraying the entrance to a hutong courtyard after a sandstorm in Beijing. On the right a view into the entrance of a courtyard in the old town of PingYao in Shanxi province.

 

 

Beijing’s disappearing hutong areas

 

 

They are slowly disappearing, but you will still find them everywhere in Beijing: hutong, or nong tang, areas built one or two decades ago.

The buildings, usually just one story high, are often poorly constructed and lack private sanitary facilities. Like in the old hutongs in the center of Beijing, residents share public restroom facilities and for a shower one has to go to a bathhouse.  A labyrinth of small alleys connects the houses on the inside of the hutong area and on the outside you will find small shops and restaurants providing the daily necessities.

 

Often these areas are surrounded by modern high rise commercial or residential buildings. On the one hand this provides a sharp contrast between the living conditions of the rich and the poor, on the other hand it characterizes the heterogeneous environment of the city where rich and poor are not (yet) segregated by districts. It makes that live on the streets in most parts of the city is (still) very lively with street vendors, small restaurants and people chatting or playing cards and Chinese chess on the street.

 

It is this heterogeneous environment that is often full of surprises. A while ago I was invited for a dinner by a Chinese friend living in such a poor hutong area.  It had rained that day and before I reached the entrance of the house, my shoes were completely covered with mud. Inside, a sparsely lit small room with a simple folding table, served as a dining room. Our host had invited a friend and we had a long talk over a good dinner with old traditional Beijing dishes and a lot of “baijiu” (a strong alchohol). At the end of the evening I exchanged business cards with the friend of our host. Back home I checked his name card and I found out that the friend was actually a very influential and rich person, being the second in command executive manager of one of China’s largest state-enterprises.

 

Eventually all of these poor hutong areas will disappear and make way for new development projects (except for the several hundred years old hutong areas that are gradually being restored as new homes for the rich). Nostalgic feelings make that many people regret that these areas disappear, but having talked with many of their residents, most people living there do look forward to their new houses with modern facilities.

 

Life in new high rise residential areas brings the inevitable loss of community sense compared to the life in the hutong areas.  A loss for street photographers and everybody else who enjoys lively street scenes. For the residents themselves however, this does not outweigh the benefits of the comfort provided by their new homes. The kind of home this street photographer returns to after a street photo shoot …

 

 

 

 

 

Beijing, Unemployment

 

 

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.

 

 


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