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The eternal present.
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Palace of Earthly Tranquility, Kunninggong - Forbidden City, Beijing
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Penguin Australia An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia. Is this you? As is widely known, the razing of old Beijing and its rebuilding has brooked only token resistance from those who live there. Indeed, many Westerners find the lack of leverage against such government initiatives not only alien but repugnant. For most non-Chinese audiences the bulldozing of the quaint, centuries-old laneways or hutongs surrounding the Forbidden City is more than mere vandalism - it is regarded as an assault on individual human rights.
Even as Becker describes them, these same hutongs are now virtual slums, without running water or toilets.
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As one-storey structures, they are also hopelessly outdated in a city of over 14 million people. This is not, however, a case entertained in this book. Rather, Becker argues that the razing of old Beijing is a form of revenge taken by the Communist Party on the people of Beijing for the spontaneous uprising culminating in the events of Tiananmen Square in June It is true that the city built by the Emperor Yong Le had survived relatively unchanged for almost five hundred years.
But if there were any one event responsible for the modern destruction of Beijing it would surely be the Cultural Revolution, unleashed by Mao Zedong in and ending only with this death in In its wake, not only Beijing but most traditional cities and villages lost many of their architectural and other cultural treasures - as well as their intellectual elite. Memories of that revolution haunt this book, for it is arguably the one event that has ironically facilitated the breathtaking speed of China's modernization.
For developers, history is a brake.
The City of Heavenly Tranquility: Beijing in the History of China (Hardcover)
Destroy history and things can be done quickly. Take away the leverage of local protest and back development with strongly centralized government, and virtually any plan can be implemented - and quickly. At an astonishing pace Chinese labour works on hour shifts old Beijing is disappearing. New Beijing is now rising in architectural shapes that simply astonish.
Whether it is the Bird's Nest or the Water Cube, the enormous egg-shaped Concert Hall or the two leaning towers for Central China TV, Beijing is now becoming a show-case for architectural shock and awe. As that phrase might imply, what is at stake here is a violent confrontation of cultural values.
As a Westerner, Becker believes in history, even quoting Orega y Gasset: "Man has no nature; what he has is history. In Becker's hands, their stories are driven by a very Western agenda, which is, essentially, that of the conflict between preserving and dismissing the past. Although in many ways disjointed, the book is held together by the trope of a desperate siege against the forces of destruction, rendering it predictable, if poignant, reading. As such, each chapter replays much of the same drama, with very little self-interrogation or even reflection.