The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed

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9780802717504: The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed
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Journalist Michael Meyer has spent his adult life in China, first in a small village as a Peace Corps volunteer, the last decade in Beijing--where he has witnessed the extraordinary transformation the country has experienced in that time. For the past two years he has been completely immersed in the ancient city, living on one of its famed hutong in a century-old courtyard home he shares with several families, teaching English at a local elementary school--while all around him "progress" closes in as the neighborhood is methodically destroyed to make way for high-rise buildings, shopping malls, and other symbols of modern, urban life. The city, he shows, has been demolished many times before; however, he writes, "the epitaph for Beijing will read: born 1280, died 2008...what emperors, warlords, Japanese invaders, and Communist planners couldn't eradicate, the market economy can." The Last Days of Old Beijing tells the story of this historic city from the inside out-through the eyes of those whose lives are in the balance: the Widow who takes care of Meyer; his students and fellow teachers, the first-ever description of what goes on in a Chinese public school; the local historian who rallies against the government. The tension of preservation vs. modernization--the question of what, in an ancient civilization, counts as heritage, and what happens when a billion people want to live the way Americans do--suffuse Meyer's story.

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Review:

"It's rare that a writer truly lives a book, commits himself to the rhythms of a place, and turns research into something deeper. For the past two years, Mike Meyer has lived and taught in the hutong neighborhoods of Beijing; nobody writing in English knows this world as well as he does." (Peter Hessler, author of River Town and Oracle Bones.)

All in all, his record of the dying ways of a city is an impressive feat. And while the phenomenon may be most extreme there, it's not just Beijing's problem. In a way, we're all living on New Ancient Culture Street. (New York Times Book Review)

A compelling work of narrative nonfiction about the city itself. (Wall Street Journal)

Michael Meyer eloquently portrays the madness of the city during this period. (Los Angeles Times)

A haunting portrait of the interaction between change and changelessness in China...Meyer beautifully dissects the tensions between tradition and modernity in the minds of the Chinese people and examines the identity crisis that still persists, for Beijing, and for China. (Slate)

A substantive, smart book...Meyer knows the ins and outs of hutong history because he's one of the few Westerners to have ever lived in one. (Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air)

Nimbly told...Through his skillful weaving of his professional experiences with his intimate encounters with neighbors, The Last Days of Old Beijing is as much a chronicle of the physical transformation of the city as it is a tribute to the inhabitants of his beloved hutong."-- San Francisco Chronicle

Book Description:

The most original China book of 2008 is the most appealing China book in paperback in 2009--a fascinating, intimate portrait of Beijing through the lens of its ancient neighborhoodw, facing destruction as the city, and China, is relentlessly modernized.

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9780802716521: The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed

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ISBN 10:  0802716520 ISBN 13:  9780802716521
Publisher: Walker & Co, 2008
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